My my, just how much they missed in this strange and confusing sequel.
If you were a fan of the first Mamma Mia! for its all-star cast and bubbly, energetic dance numbers, you will probably enjoy the second instalment, provided you don’t ask too many questions. If, however, you enjoy films that make sense, then don’t waste your money.
The lowdown: the film has two storylines: the present day, and the flashback. In the present, protagonist Sophie (the ever-radiant Amanda Seyfried) is preparing for the grand reopening of her mother’s Greek island hotel one year after her death. Her three fathers, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth) all return to the island for the event, along with her mother’s two best friends Rosie and Tanya, played hilariously once again by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. All mourn the loss of Donna (Meryl Streep), but not much else has changed. Sophie continues to sigh over her soulmate Sky (Dominic Cooper), who happily gives up his personal hopes and dreams yet again to be back with his love. The grand opening is cancelled and then uncancelled, Sophie throws up once and concludes that she must be pregnant. Then Cher turns up for no apparent reason, her plasticky forehead shining far more than her acting abilities, though her late entrance and lack of character are made up for by a magnificent rendition of ‘Fernando’. Everybody sings, dances, finds a romantic partner, and all live happily after, presumably – though it didn’t work out so well for Donna last time.
The gaudy dance numbers and lack of coherent timeline of the present are interspersed with flashbacks to Donna and her gang’s younger days. Young Donna is played by Lily James, who brings beauty and charisma but lacks Streep’s spark. She meets three dashing suitors in the period of a week, and has a brief love affair with each. Of the new cast members, Jeremy Irvine shines as a lovestruck young Harry, while Josh Dylan as playboy young Bill shares a standout duet with Donna. Unfortunately, the best of ABBA’s repertoire of catchy pop anthems were used in the first film, leaving the new cast to perform their lesser-known tunes or reuse songs altogether.
There are an awful lot of plot-holes that are either overlooked or blatantly ignored. For starters, why is Donna dead? Did Meryl Streep not want to do a substandard sequel? If not, why does she even show up at the very end? When it comes to Meryl, it’s gotta be all or nothing, and I personally felt a little ripped off at getting just two songs from the Hollywood queen. Second, what on earth is going on with this timeline? The age discrepancy between Donna and daughter Sophie was easier to overlook in the first film, where Donna’s dalliances were 21 years in her vague, non-specific past. In the sequel, however, when young Donna falls pregnant just after graduating university in the 1970’s, it becomes far more obvious that present-day Sophie should be older than 25. Like, decades older.
There are so many aspects of the film that are just irksome. Why do Donna’s Dynamos sport the same haircuts in 2018 as they did in 1970-something? Why does Aphrodite’s fountain, such a prominent metaphor in the first film, get paved into non-existence in the hotel’s remodel? Why doesn’t Christine Baranski get another solo when Does Your Mother Know That You’re Out were the best three minutes in the original? Why are the only people of colour in the entire movie are service staff who don’t get a single line? The list goes on and on.
Once again, the energetic cast brings life to classic ABBA anthems which are impossible not to sing along to. The cast is charismatic and the flashbacks are charmingly nostalgic. The stunning backdrop of the pristine Greek islands serve to make the film a visual treat.
The innumerable plot-holes of the film frequently make you think ‘What the?’ It’s almost impossible not to compare individual aspects to the first film, which undoubtedly did everything better. If you can take the film for what it is, a cheesy, feel-good musical, it still makes for an enjoyable watch.
FIB rating: ★★