When it comes to the world of movies, sequels are hard to successfully pull off, and musicals are doubly so. A decade ago, Mamma Mia! went into battle on one front and succeeded to the point where ten years later, the franchise decided to take a crack at the bat on the second. Which leaves us with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, a film that acts as an unholy mashup of aspects from two of the most popular sequels of all time: The Godfather Part II and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. If only it was as entertaining or cohesive as either of those films.
Five years after their fateful marriage, Sophie and Sky (Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper) are on the rocks. While Sophie is fixing up her late mother's inn, Sky is in New York with a potential job offer. As she progresses with the renovation, Sophie begins to think back to the details of Donna's (Lily James) exploits in her younger years. Throughout both stories, destiny will prevail and the music will flow like wine, as we see younger Donna wooed by all three of her potential suitors (Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner and Jeremy Irvine.)
As someone who has a healthy appreciation for both ABBA and cinematic musicals, I found myself disappointed with the first Mamma Mia!, as the story for that first film was a rather thin structure to hang the various greatest hits of ABBA on. So heading into Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I found myself fearing it'd be more of the same, and for a little while it looked like it was going to buck the trend and execute a dual narrative of mother and daughter finding themselves through the magic of Europe. But eventually, this sequel found itself not only falling into its worst habits from the first film, it started making some new, more costly mistakes, besides not being able to find strong male vocalists on both sides of the timeline. (Seriously, were the guys from the A-Teens busy?)
For starters, the story of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again should have either been split in two or integrated in a much better fashion. It tries to pull a Godfather Part II, but the cutting between the two stories is sometimes done with such breakneck speed that it's hard to get too invested in either half of the story. By the time a pivotal storm sequence happens towards the film's middle, this trick is employed to the point where any drama is robbed from the proceedings, and a flat semi-disaster is the most you get out of the deal. This messy editing extends throughout the entire film, and by time a so-secret-you-knew-it-was-coming cameo takes place at the end of the film, the emotional punch it should have had is non-existent.
Also, for a film that boasts a cast like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again does, this is a film that doesn't know what to do with any of them. So adding Andy Garcia and Cher in severely minor, but highly marketable roles doesn't do anything else other than shout that they're in the film, if you're willing to wait through a lot of extended flashbacks. Not to mention, Christine Baranski's Tanya and Julie Walters' Rosie, despite shining as bright as possible in their limited screen time, are done so dirty by this film that they're owed their own globe-trotting spinoff. Though this is nothing compared to the greatest sin that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again commits frequently, and flagrantly: it repeats a lot of songs from the first film.
If you're going to do a jukebox musical centered around one artist/group's discography, ABBA is a pretty good investment. That is, if you don't use up all of their most popular songs in the first go around like Mamma Mia! did. So what's a film like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to do? Repeat entire songs from its predecessor's soundtrack, complete with more musical numbers to slow down the plot! Were you upset that "Waterloo" was the big finale to the first film? It's young Harry's big musical number of seduction in the sequel! Are you a big fan of the titular track and/or "Dancing Queen?" You're gonna hear them again! There's a couple of songs that deserve repeats, as they were either deleted from the first film altogether or they're an emotional callback, but if you have to repeat about a third of your previous film's entries to pad out the length, maybe you should have paced yourself the first time.
Still, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn't a total loss, as it happens to have slight moments of charm and whimsy that work. Cher's rendition of "Fernando" makes one long for a film that could have included her character Ruby, and Andy Garcia's Fernando, in a much better narrative that used the modern day cast to better effect. As it stands, we have a half baked prequel mashed up with what feels like an overgrown pair of bookends that could have framed a fully realized origin story. If you're that big of an ABBA/Mamma Mia! fan, you probably won't be able to resist Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. If you don't fit that description, you might be singing, "S.O.S." from your seat the entire time.