The musical numbers are well-staged and moderately enjoyable, but the overarching sadness taints them. You can never quite enjoy the bright sunny karaoke tunes because Sophie’s mourning is still so thick.
It’s been 10 years since the original Mamma Mia film hit theaters to tepid reviews. But after a recent rewatch, I realized that the movie had the one thing I required of all my movie-musicals: pure, unadulterated joy. Despite the nonsensical plot, paper thin character sketches and terrible singing, everyone involved seemed to be having an absolute blast singing all of ABBA’s hits. I couldn’t help love it despite myself. Unfortunately, the 2018' sequel has all the music, but none of the joy. With Meryl Streep largely missing from the main cast due to her character’s death, the entire endeavor has a thick pall of sadness as Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) tries to get her mother’s seaside hotel ready for its grand reopening in her honour.
In a series of flashbacks, Lily James steps into the Donna role, telling the story of the summer she met and slept with Sophie’s three dads and her subsequent pregnancy. While there are some sweet moments and the younger versions of Harry, Bill and Sam are well-cast, the story is largely a retread of the first film’s premise. The musical numbers are well-staged and moderately enjoyable, but the overarching sadness taints them. You can never quite enjoy the bright sunny karaoke tunes because Sophie’s mourning is still so thick.
The final third of the movie is affecting however, as Sophie discovers that she is pregnant and reflects on how her mother must have felt when she had her, alone in a barn in a seaside town. Ghost Meryl Streep turns up at the baptism (yes, really) for a lovely number that is aggressive in its desire to make you tear up, and it works. But it isn’t until the final credits scene when the entire cast shares a number that things finally pick up and achieve the levity a story like this needed. It’s a shame that the final number is the very best one.
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is nothing special, but it will satisfy a certain mood (as evidenced by its much higher Rotten Tomatoes score), and the music is still as infectious and fun as ever. But on a purely technical level, it fails to stick the landing.