Let's all have a moment of honesty, fans included. The 2008 film adaptation of Mamma Mia - a jukebox stage musical based on the songs of ABBA - was pretty atrocious in standard film-making terms. The whole thing was a bit of an amateur-hour shambles, full of wince-inducing dad-karaoke (here's lookin' at you, Pierce Brosnan) and ropy dance interludes. That it's viewed by many with affection is due to its exuberant sense of fun, the number of gorgeous people on display and those inspired ABBA tunes (the song-writing of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus is preternaturally wonderful). As a movie, however, it wasn't actually much good and you know it. As for a sequel, well that's destined to be a blatant cash-grab, even more flimsy and cringing than the first. Right?
Actually, wrong. Surprisingly, disarmingly, wonderfully wrong. Turns out Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a well-crafted film and one terrific piece of summertime entertainment. And it warms my heart to type those words.
The original story had bride-to-be Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) inviting three of her mother's ex-lovers to her Greek island home, to discover which was her father in time for the wedding. By the end her mum Donna (Meryl Streep) was happily reunited with the love of her life (Brosnan), while Sophie found two additional doting father-figures in Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth.
Caught up? Good. Five storytelling years on, Sophie is seeking inspiration from her mother's girlhood experiences, while contemplating the challenges of her own future. And it's this simple conceit that provides the movie its inspired sequel/prequel structure (think The Godfather: Part II with Swedish pop anthems). With the Bella Donna (Streep's island hotel) on the verge of a relaunch, flashbacks provide insight into how young Donna came to stay on the island in the first place - and a fuller picture of her romantic misadventures along the way.
Here We Go Again is an upgrade on every level, not least because it's more than an adaptation from a frothy stage show; its original screenplay allows greater room for everyone to breathe creatively. Written by Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) with help from romcom maestro Richard Curtis, it is genuinely funny throughout, with emotional depth worthy of those sublime ABBA songs. Any doubts as to the point of a sequel are dispelled within five minutes and some striking plot developments. They're gone there? Wow. Was not expecting that. Hence while in one sense it's all still trivial, it simultaneously manages to be profound.
Then in his director's role Parker tightens everything - choreography, camerawork, editing... It's all sharp and vibrant and colourful. Past and present flow silkily together in terms of both theme and structure. The guys' dubious song-and-dance skills are used sparingly and to either amusing or dramatic effect, while the quality singing voices - Seyfried and Streep with the addition of a certain Cher this time around - come into their own. As for the acting, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are a sublime comedy double-act as Streep's besties Rosie and Tanya, while Lily James (who's already shone this year in Darkest Hour and TGLAPPPS) is the living embodiment of summer as young Donna, completely unphased by the fact she's playing the same role as Multi-Oscar Meryl.
Props are due, in fact, to all the young actors playing junior versions of the established characters. It works charmingly in every case and uncannily so with Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn, as they replicate the Walters/Baranski double-act. I hadn't realised how much I liked these fictional people until there I was, taking delight in meeting their younger selves.
Gut Reaction: Laughed. Cried. Cheered. Danced (almost).
Where Are the Women?: Not so present behind the camera this time, but a force of nature in front of it.
Ed's Verdict: 8/10. I'm seriously tempted to give it more. As a celebration of life, music, love, friendship and family, this really couldn't be better. (Also look out for Omid Djalili's cameo appearance. Very funny.)