Donna is dead to begin with. As dead as a doornail. It’s just one of the many, many ways this sequel unpicks all the happy endings of the first movie to cynically give itself a reason to exist.
Preparing for the grand opening of the Hotel Bella Donna, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is working flat out, with the help of her step-dad Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and the hotel manager Mr Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia) but struggling to cope with the absence of her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) and her other two Dads. When Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) arrive to help out, its hard not to reminisce about their youth with Donna.
After the breezy, infectious charm of “Mamma Mia!” made the leap from the stage to the screen with such success, of course there’d be demand for a sequel. I’m not sure that demand was for this awkward and clumsy requel which opts for telling the story we already knew instead of giving us something new.
It opens with what I thought was the worst musical number I’ve ever seen (‘When I Kissed The Teacher’) only to almost immediately plumb even greater depths with the excruciatingly awful version of ‘Waterloo’ – which heavily features the horribly miscast Hugh Skinner as young Harry Bright (Colin Firth).
Skinner’s miscasting aside, the ‘young’ iterations of the cast are all pretty good, with Jessica Keenan Wynn uncannily channelling Baranski and Lilly James lighting up the screen as young Donna. It’s in this first half of the movie that the film suffers the most as it retells us the story of Donna’s brief courtships with Harry, Bill and Sams only not quite as well as it did in the first movie through flashbacks and its only James’ vibrant energy which keeps the whole thing from flatlining.
The second half of the movie sheds more light on Donna’s early life on the island and with that shift, the movie improves markedly. These reminiscences are interspersed with a present-day set story of hotel management which leaves the audience feeling as bored as Amanda Seyfried often looks. Much of the returning cast seem resigned to being there, smiling grimly along as the plot is mercilessly tortured and beaten into shape to accommodate a grab-bag of ABBA b-sides and c-list tunes, propped up by a shamelessly repeated rendition of ‘Dancing Queen’. Only the last-minute appearance by an apparently animatronic Cher seems to perk people up (even if her cameo is ultimately as pointless as Jeff Goldbum’s in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and if the film had been even half as much fun as the closing reprise of ‘Super Trouper’ seems to have been for the cast, I would have been happier.
More a variation on a theme than an original composition, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” doesn’t feel like a continuation of the sun-drenched hi-jinks of the original. Instead, it feels like a tacky club remix; a pub-circuit tribute act, when you were hoping for the original line-up.