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Mamma Mia! It’s actually better...

Saturday July 28, 2018 Written by Published in Entertainment
female cast of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, now screening at the Empire Cinema. 18072701 female cast of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, now screening at the Empire Cinema. 18072701

It’s been 10 years to the month since Mamma Mia! set the world’s box offices on fire with an unlikely pastiche of 30-year-old ditties being karaoked on a Greek island floating somewhere near London’s Pinewood studios – and now here we go again.

 

My memory of the original is mostly of feeling bulldozered by an all-singing, all-dancing, candy-coated extravaganza to which resistance was useless and of which my opinion was utterly redundant.

I walked into this sequel – actually called Here We Go Again – expecting more of the same, but maybe to slightly less effect.

For that is the way of sequels, usually. They’re a cash-in without much reason to exist but to retread the original and fatten the coffers of all involved.

And for the first hour or so that’s exactly what Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again delivers.

We become aware pretty fast that all of the Abba tracks that made the greatest hits CD got used up first time around, but Here We Go Again at least has a decent swing at reintroducing a few lesser-known tracks in amongst the reprisals. Even The Day Before You Came turns up in a credit sequence that is actually worth staying in your seat for.

Here We Go Again kicks off – extremely unpromisingly – back in 1979. A young Donna and friends (Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies – all superb) have just graduated from university and are off to play in the Mediterranean. Donna leaves first and falls immediately into a succession of three summer-loves that will set up the events of the first film, 25 years later.

The first 10 minutes or so struck me as a celebration of tone-deaf privilege that had me feeling about as optimistic and comfortable as I do in a dentist’s waiting room. But, as soon as Donna hits the road and starts what I’m laughingly going to refer to as ‘the plot’ rolling, Here We Go Again starts to buckle down and get on with it.

As a nicely staged celebration of being young, carefree and shagging like a ferret, Here We Go Again ticks all the boxes.

Lily James can truly sing and brings a strength and slightly tough-edged beauty to the role that almost convinces us she will grow to become Meryl Streep’s Donna.

The three swains and lovers – Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan – all do more than enough as the youthful versions of Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard.

In fact, since the young cast can all sing and dance the old boys into the ground, I’d say this facet of Here We Go Again is far better than the first go around.

Given the choice between hearing Irvine sing or Brosnan commit grievous bodily harm to any of Abba’s immortal ditties, my money’s on youth over experience all day long.

And then, just when I was shaping up to give Here We Go Again a more than grudging pass, something I didn’t see coming happened.

Maybe it was a realisation of just how hard Amanda Seyfried was working to carry her role as Donna’s daughter Sophie, trying to run her mother’s hotel alone.

Or maybe it was a couple of fantastic cameos – one from Panos Mouzourakis and band especially, tearing Kisses Of Fire to bits in a taverna – that injected some unexpected chaos into the formula.

Maybe it was some truly likeable work from Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and Andy Garcia.

Or maybe it was an unexpected detour into birth, death and rebirth that dropped the film an emotional cog and caught me and – judging by the sniffing around me – most of the audience by surprise.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, to my vastly unqualified eyes, is maybe a better film than the first.

Sequels either coast to the finish line knowing they’ll make a buck anyway, or work hard to justify their existence at all. I reckon Here We Go Again is one of the latter. Bravo.   - Stuff