Released: 12th July
Seen: 19th July
One of the hardest genres to get right in cinema has to be the musical genre. It’s probably the only genre besides horror that has people actively state they dislike it, by its very nature it’s difficult to get into because the suspension of disbelief is extreme and when it goes wrong, it can go spectacularly wrong (Just ask Carrie). What’s even harder than that is a “Jukebox Musical”, because now you’re taking beloved songs by classic artists and having them sung by people who aren’t those artists. Across The Universe, All Shook Up, Jersey Boys, the list goes on. Sometimes they work wonderfully but very often they become forgotten by history (Did you remember Good Vibrations, the Beach Boys musical? Chances are that you don’t). What’s even harder than that is the musical sequel, not only often forgotten but are often horrible. Bring Back Birdie, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, Love Never Dies, Grease 2, Shock Treatment, the list of failed musical sequels could go on forever. So, how on earth could a sequel to a jukebox musical turn out? Oh my god.
The original Mamma Mia! is a strange concoction of a movie, one that is trying to recreate the magic of a stage play but forgot that it’s not a stage show and therefore needed to actually look like a movie. It’s not really that good, it has some moments that work and the musical numbers vary from cute to painful (Why did we let Pierce Brosnan sing?) but on the whole it’s a simple harmless piece of fluff that could make your mother happy when she was bored on a Sunday afternoon and can’t find her copy of the Abba Greatest Hits album. The sequel is everything you wanted the original to be and then some. The sequel, and I still do not know how it did this, is so much more than the original was without a shadow of a doubt. It’s bigger, brighter, it’s bolder, it’s better. Without the restraints of recreating a revered piece of Broadway holding it down, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again manages to tell an original story that pulls at the heartstrings one second and get’s you cackling with laughter the next. They clearly paid attention to the reaction from the first movie and took copious notes to fix things because this is what we should’ve gotten all along.
One of the genuinely surprising things is how seamlessly the musical numbers fit in with the story. Since the first movie used most of the well-known songs from Abba’s catalogue, this movie largely uses songs that were deeper cuts on the album. We’re talking songs that are the answers to trivia questions, songs that are obscure even while being on the same album as Dancing Queen and Money, Money, Money. The use of those songs allows them to feel a lot more natural, we don’t get the instant recognition that we got in the last movie when a single chord told you to get ready to sing along for Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! (A Man After Midnight), these songs fit the plot and the characters perfectly. Singing Andante, Andante might not get the audience singing along, but it’s the perfect song for a young Donna Sheridan (Played by Lily James) to sing in order to show off her vocal talents in a deserted little club on the island.
The choreography for the numbers feels so much more lively and fun than it did in the original, Waterloo get’s a bunch of dancing waiters dressed as Napoleon and it’s genuinely adorable while Angeleyes somehow can be sweet and hilarious. Every number feels like it was made for a screen instead of a stage and they use that so wonderfully. They know how to move people around to create a scope that really works for the film. They take full advantage of the gorgeous location and dancers. We get dance numbers on boats, we get them on beaches and this time they work because they’re made to be done for a camera. It’s joyful to watch and there are only a few times where they kind of fumble the ball. They don’t drop it, they keep it up for a fairly long time, but there are a few moments when I’m unsure that they meant to do certain things… fortunately, the film is so infectiously fun that I can’t help but smile through the tiny blemishes.
One of the strange elements of the film is that it’s somehow both a prequel and a sequel, going between when Donna (Meryl Streep in the original movie) was meeting the three men who might potentially be the father to Sophie (Played by Amanda Seyfried). Going between the two vastly different time periods could’ve failed so hard, it’s a difficult thing to make work… and yet, I do not know how, but this film did it. You end up being genuinely emotionally invested in Sophie’s quest to make sure that she get’s her late mother’s villa ready for the grand opening, and being emotionally invested in the adventures of young Donna trying to find herself on a strange new island. The people they got to play the young versions of the original cast are amazing, in particular Jessica Keenan Wynn who could just make a living as a professional young Christine Baranski impersonator because she’s absolute perfection. So is Alexa Davies who rounds out the Donna and the Dynamos by being a young Julie Walters. They just work wonderfully together and have some of the funniest moments. Same with the younger versions of Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Harry (Hugh Skinner) and Bill (Josh Dylan), all of whom have to convince you that they could all be the younger versions of Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard but make it seem believable that Donna would actually want to sleep with them, thus creating the conflict for the original movie. All of them absolutely fit their parts, they obviously went to learn the little mannerisms from the older men who they’re meant to be portraying and they all genuinely perform remarkably well in their specific musical numbers.
Now onto Cher, who basically was the selling point of this movie for a shockingly large amount of the press… she’s amazing, we knew that would happen, but they made a HUGE mistake tipping their hand and telling people she was in the film. She is only in the end of the film so I’m not going to spoil anything about what she does, but it would’ve been so much more effective if she wasn’t on any posters or advertisements and was left as a surprise for when people turned up. You’re filming in a studio, you could’ve hidden her from us and given us one hell of a moment and you didn’t. I’ll forgive it though because it’s Cher, but maybe the people in marketing should think for a second about how it’s better to let a surprise happen than to try and pull people in with a name like Cher’s
To call this film a surprise is an understatement. I went in with every reservation you could imagine. I was sure that this wasn’t going to work, why would it? How could it? But it does, it works and it’s funny and sweet and makes you want to hum along even when you don’t really know the songs. This is one of the most joyful musicals I’ve seen in a while and if you liked the original even a little bit, you’ll love this. If you enjoy musicals in general, you’re going to enjoy this. If you like Abba or Cher or gloriously fun campy movies, this is for you. If, for some reason, you don’t like Musicals or Abba or Cher… I mean, let’s be real, you weren’t going to go anyway so have fun at whatever you see, I wanna go see this again.
Oh, there is a silly after credit’s sequence that’s basically a blooper, but it’s honestly funny enough to be worth waiting for.