By Jack Dignan
I have a question for my fellow Australians. Do you remember those So Fresh CDs that were immensely popular throughout the 2000s? They were divided into seasons, resulting in four new albums a year with the best songs released that quarter. Everyone had them. They were mindless, frequently trashy, but so much fun. However, the problem with these CDs was that, at least in my experience, we only ever cared about the Summer Album. Autumn? Spring? Winter? Forget it. Summer’s where it’s at.
These albums remind me a lot of the Mamma Mia movies. The Summer Album, aka the first Mamma Mia movie, is a lot of fun, but all subsequent albums just fail to recapture the magic. Yes, that’s right, I enjoy the first Mamma Mia movie. It’s a film so ridiculous and nonsensical that it really shouldn’t work, and an argument could be made that it definitely doesn’t (let’s be real, it’s a bad movie), but if you strap yourself in knowing what’s to come, you’ll be hard-pressed not to enjoy it. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the So Fresh Winter Album. There are some good songs throughout, but I’m not going to rush about to buy it.
Ten years after the original, all your favourite “characters” (characters is a very loose term) are back and they’re bringing with them the best of ABBA in this star-studded musical follow-up. Meryl Streep’s left the spotlight behind, and this new installment, not based on a stage production but instead an original work, sets out to retell her origin story through a series of flashbacks. Cinderella and Baby Driver star Lilly James steps into the beloved role, and although she’s stepping into some big shoes, she fits them well. James’ performance is every bit as charismatic and loveable as fans would hope, and goddamn, she sure can sing.
In fact, everyone in this cast absolutely nails their characters. Most are just along for the ride, such as the three dads Stellan Skarsgård (whose introduction is utterly incredible), Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan, but they’re all having fun. And, as always, the shared dynamic between Julie Walters and MVP Christine Branski is impossible not to love. Even their younger counterparts, played by Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies, knock it out of the park as the unapologetic, man-hungry singers we’ve grown to love. However, given the fact that they don’t meet the three dads until the first film comes around, they’re given very little to do.
The problems with this film don’t derive from the cast or their singing abilities (much to my delight, Brosnan doesn’t get a solo performance, and my ears are all the better for it), but instead from the over-extended, highly derivative screenplay by director Ol Parker. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel director attempts to ground this film in reality, loosing the self-awareness and over the top nature that the first film used to its advantage. Don’t expect any stag parties to come swimming out of the ocean and strut along a peer in flippers. It’s just not going to happen.
An attempt is made at bringing dramatic edge to the sequel, but it doesn’t work. Characters are established as wanting to go their own way, leading to numerous phone arguments and songs reflecting on a past gone by, but it’s all dropped without consequence halfway through, making the elongated introduction all the more tedious and unfulfilling to sit through. Hey, at least the scene transitions look cool. But worst of all, once the melodrama is dropped, you start to realise that this film has accomplished literally nothing in its near two-hour runtime. I’ve seen some unnecessary sequels in my time, but goddamn, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again might have them all beat.
The “plot” involving Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie advertised in the trailers doesn’t come into play until the finale, and Cher’s appearance is fleeting, but fun. As for the flashbacks, we’ve already been told in great detail how everything goes down, so don’t expect any dramatic weight or unexpected plot twists. Not even the musical numbers are that exciting. Parker and DP Robert D. Yeoman shoot it well, but they fail to go all-out with the choreography, instead choosing bland sequences of characters moving through rooms and singing. There’s a fantastic rendition of ‘Dancing Queen,’ and a half-decent ‘I Kissed The Teacher,’ but everything else falls flat.
It’s the lack of Mery Streep, and the constant reminder that she’s not here, that really sinks this ship. Her absence is sorely missed, both by the characters and the audience. Yes, as promised, she does make a momentary appearance, but don’t expect anything memorable or emotionally satisfying. In a film where literally nothing happens for two hours, a little bit more of Meryl Streep wouldn’t have hurt. But hey, we can’t always get what we want. I’m sure this film will find its audience, perhaps the same audience who enjoy reminding me how wrong I was about The Greatest Showman, but this audience isn’t me. Still, I’m going to have a hard time getting ABBA songs out of my head for the next year.
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