Everyone wants to be a Dancing Queen. From the 8-year-old girl at her first sleepover to the fratty looking guy standing in the corner at a party moving not-so-subtly to the beat of the ABBA fan-favorite, no one can resist the power of Mamma Mia. So, naturally, when Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was announced, fans rejoiced, excited to finally see what happened the summer that protagonist Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) was conceived.
The first film opens on the eve of 20-year-old Sophie’s wedding, as she awaits the arrival of three men she read about in her mother’s diary from 21 years ago. Knowing that one of them must be her father, but unsure which it is, Sophie invites them without telling her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), who never told them she was pregnant. Here We Go Again explains what happened that summer Donna showed up in Greece for the first time, as the first movie only offers quick glimpses of the past.
The whole gang from the original is back on the island for the grand reopening of the hotel created by Donna, which was restored by Sophie after her mother’s untimely death. As the camera pans to the sky, it comes back down in the 1970s, where young Donna (Lily James) and the Dynamos—her two best friends and members of her girl group—have just graduated from college. After the first musical number of the movie, “When I Kissed the Teacher,” Donna takes off on her adventure.
But the spirit that Streep managed to capture in the character of Donna seems to be lost in James. She tries to channel the enthusiastic, carefree, adventurous energy that is required, but instead her performance appears unnatural and lacks authenticity. It certainly can’t be easy living up to Streep, no matter the role, but young Donna is the least impressive of all of the young characters—the other Dynamos, Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies) are the saving graces of the performance.
The older Dynamos come in at full force as well, just in time to save the audience from what was shaping up to be a rather slow revival. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters reprise their roles as Tanya and Rosie, respectively, offering the same tongue-in-cheek comments that have had Mamma Mia fans laughing since the beginning. Their acting styles complemented their junior actors well, something that gave the flashbacks a familiarity lacking when it was James on her own.
Similarly, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth were exactly what was needed in their roles of Sam, Bill, and Harry respectively—carefree, not taking themselves too seriously, and there to offer comedic relief when the audience started to miss Streep’s role a little too much. Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) and young Harry (Hugh Skinner) were not nearly as likeable or entertaining, although this was more likely due to missed opportunities and inconsistencies in the writing than their own acting abilities.
Young Bill (Josh Dylan) came off as the best of Donna’s summer romances, despite the fact that Sam ends up marrying Donna when they meet again in the first film. This is just one of the minor plot holes that seem to carelessly crop up throughout the film. In the first movie Donna says someone “up there” has it in for her, claiming it must be her mother. Yet her mother, in the form of Cher, miraculously makes an over-the-top appearance in Here We Go Again. Further, the order in which Donna meets the men changes from the journal entry that Sophie learns about them from in the first movie, and while the original Mamma Mia shows that the other Dynamos didn’t even know that she had slept with more than one man that summer, Here We Go Again shows that they knew about Sam and even met Bill.
Even still, small moments work to make up for the flaws in the time jumps. As Donna and the Dynamos dance on a stage in the first musical number, “chiquititas” is written on the side, same as the name of the song they sing together in the first movie. As young Harry and young Donna sit in a restaurant, an instrumental version of “Our Last Summer”—which Harry sang to Donna in the first movie—plays in the background. And of course, the scene in which a fleet of boats, with the fathers reenacting the famous scene from Titanic on the front of one, while “Dancing Queen” pierces the air can almost make up for all of it.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn’t what you would call a good movie. There were certainly mistakes made, the lead doesn’t live up to high expectations, and the soundtrack isn’t nearly as catchy as the original. That said, it was all that it needed to be. Mamma Mia fans aren’t expecting an award-winning movie. They just want large choreographed dance scenes, very blue Greek water in at least 30 percent of the scenes, and an unrealistic romance story. And in that regard, Here We Go Again succeeded.