Anyone who’s ever handed me an aux cord knows that I am an unapologetic ABBA super fan, which makes it easy for me to call a film like “Mamma Mia” one of my favorite movies of all time (among the likes of “The Princess Bride” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”). But oddly enough, I wasn’t all that jazzed about the sequel when it was announced. To me, “Mamma Mia” is the type of movie that can just stand on its own and be what it is. The seemingly overhyped, possibly money-grabbing reboot is always a tough kind of movie to anticipate; most end up being absolute garbage (albeit profitable garbage), but in the right hands, a surprise sequel could strike a chord with old fans and bring in legions of new ones. Reboots can revive a fandom or destroy it.
But reboot or not, any feature of the “Mamma Mia” cinematic universe is not as much a movie as it is a series of music videos linked (very) loosely together by plot. And part of why I like “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is that the sequel isn’t trying to be anything more than that; it knows exactly what it is (a chance to have some fun with all the underappreciated ABBA songs that didn’t make it into the first movie!), and I appreciate that. It’s pure entertainment — beautiful cinematography, great music and outright hilarious dialogue with just a dash of audience member tears. Sure, I questioned its existence at first. Did this story need to be told? Absolutely not. But did I have a fun time watching it? Of course I did. And did it end up making me cry? Well … yes, it did.
Before you come at me, listen. Contrary to my expectations going in, the plot wasn’t half bad. The mother-daughter dynamic prominent in the first movie was notably different this time around. The last movie was, of course, about Donna’s fear of losing Sophie. This movie was about Sophie’s fear of losing Donna. Although we got a few tantalizing glimpses of Donna’s tumultuous romantic past, the film was, at its heart, about her daughter’s efforts to memorialize her mother and do for her in death what she feels she couldn’t in life (although, let’s be honest, the Donna flashbacks were all really good).
My only noteworthy complaint: I wish they’d taken advantage of the period a bit more in young Donna’s parts of the story. For example, not one of Sophie’s fathers have their original wacky flower-power, headbanger hairstyles from the flashbacks in the first movie, and that was gravely disappointing to me. In fact, there were times when I forgot that Donna’s story took place in the 1970s altogether. And in a movie with a soundtrack full of ABBA songs, I should never forget that. Another quick gripe: I thought that Cher’s cameo felt very out of place. Cameos are a difficult trick to pull off, but with a different star, it might have worked. I think Cher runs into the classic Oprah-in-“A Wrinkle in Time” conundrum, wherein some people are so famous that they can no longer play a character. But hey, if they wanted to have Cher in their movie, I’m glad they at least used her as an excuse to shoehorn in “Fernando!”
Overall, the original story is stronger (and not so dark in places), but as a rabid fan of “Mamma Mia,” I thought the second made for a great companion piece. It was like watching really good fanfiction. The film couldn’t stand alone, of course, but I don’t think that was the point. For fans of the original, the sequel really captures its character. That being the case, any interest at all in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is an extremely good reason to get your friends and family to watch the original!