‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ delivers vibrant, popcorn-worthy musical

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

It seems passé at this point to make an ABBA pun regarding “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” But then again, how could one resist?

Part sequel and part origin story, the film takes place five years after the events of the first. After the surprising death of Donna (Meryl Streep), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) works hard to fulfill her mother’s dream of finally opening a hotel on the small island of Kalokairi. The narrative then explores young Donna’s (Lily James) life and the decisions and chance encounters that brought her to the island’s shore in the first place. With a soundtrack pulled exclusively from ABBA hits, this musical is a colorful explosion of romance and family that holds its own against the brilliance of the original.

The second film isn’t afraid to pull out all the stops, and it’s peppered with vibrant and well-executed dance numbers — while the original may have been young and sweet, this installation is the rightful dancing queen. Whether it’s the comedic rendition of “Waterloo,” complete with a miniature Napoleon re-enactment, or a jaw-droppingly grandiose number staged across multiple sailboats, the sequel is a visual achievement.

The palette of the movie drips with the saturated colors of what appears to be the most beautiful island in Greece. The songs themselves help center the audience through time jumps through the decades, with the same song often linking past and present. Although ABBA’s lyrics only tangentially relate to the film’s narrative, the musical numbers still succeed, largely because of the talent and charisma of the cast.

The cast itself is so stacked in this movie that the film struggles to evenly split screen time among its characters, making it hard for the audience to determine a protagonist. Considering that most characters now have two counterparts, the cast essentially doubles. Yet these additions only bolster the film’s appeal, with the comedic exchanges between young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies) providing most of the comedic relief.

That’s not to say “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is immune to all of the pitfalls sequels tend to make, however, as it indulges in one of the greatest sins — the unnecessary celebrity cameo.

In her role as Sophie’s grandmother, Cher makes a predictably late and glamorous entrance via helicopter. Cher essentially plays herself, and although it’s fun to laugh at her diva antics, her role largely feels unnecessary. After all, the role of prima donna is already filled twice by the past and present versions of Tanya.

Cher’s rendition of “Fernando,” while executed well, complicates the film’s ending by introducing an unnecessary romance. Considering that the crux of this narrative juggles three different paramours, it’s a move that feels superfluous. To be frank, Cher simply didn’t need to be in this film. She could have just gone ahead with her planned album of ABBA covers instead of haphazardly popping up to muddle the film’s climax.

A more interesting sequel alteration is the film’s revamped approach to editing. Music serves as a way to pivot between storylines, with the the narrative flip-flopping between the present and Donna’s past in each song. This happens abruptly and frequently, with actions taken by Seyfried perfectly mirrored by James. The film cuts between the two as they walk through the same empty house, a blue staircase serving as the link between timelines — it’s a poetic demonstration of the parallels between daughter and mother.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” continues this bold strategy in “One of Us,” a musical number that features Sophie and husband Sky (Dominic Cooper). However, the scene’s liberal use of cross-cutting here is entirely disorienting. The editing shifts repeatedly past the point of comfort, and the song’s initial success in conveying shared emotion is eroded because of confusion in spatial clarity, making it hard to comprehend what’s happening.

Despite these hiccups, when all is said and done, the film still succeeds in delivering a solid sequel. The musical numbers center around romance and heartbreak, and the massive dance numbers significantly bolster the film. A wholly well-executed sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” triumphs, showing itself to be anything but forgettable.

Sarah Alford covers film. Contact her at [email protected].