Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again review: how can you resist it?

Robbie Collin
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - © Universal Pictures

Dir: Ol Parker; Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Andy Garcia, Cher, Meryl Streep. PG cert, 114 mins.

In April 1917, Marcel Duchamp laid a porcelain urinal on its back, signed its rim with a fake name in a simpleton’s scrawl, then submitted to New York’s Society of Independent Artists under the title “Fountain”. The board was scandalised, and refused to display it.

As a critic I regret not having been around for the scramble to make sense of Duchamp’s work, which seemed to violate every conceivable standard of merit in western art. But at least I was here for Mamma Mia!. Even a decade on, it still seems so extraordinary: Colin Firth warily circling Our Last Summer, Pierce Brosnan garrotting SOS, that Generation Game choreography, Meryl Streep in dungarees – and and also the 29-week theatrical run, the attendant Abba revival, the impromptu singalongs in cinemas, the Titanic-toppling £69.17 million box-office take.

By any objective measure, Mamma Mia! was bad. But it also worked, on its own insane, Dadaist-karaoke-package-tour terms. And God help me, I loved it.

So 10 years later, along comes the offer of a return trip to Greece for another escapist wallow in the Abba songbook, in the form of this combined sequel and prequel, directed Ol Parker, the writer of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, and written by Parker, Catherine Johnson and Richard Curtis. 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again lacks the shock value of the original – that bolt of bewilderment that struck you halfway through Money, Money, Money, when you realised that yes, they were actually going through with this. But otherwise, the first film’s very specific pleasures are comprehensively encored.

As before, the music is a hoot, in terms of both track selection and execution – execution occasionally being the operative word. To see Firth and Stellan Skarsgård sing “You can dance, you can jive” at each other while shimmying down a jetty is to witness the rare spectacle of a song refuting itself.

But daftness like this is why they’re here – why we’re here too – and Here We Go Again is consistently funny, always amiably at its own expense. It is also the most turquoise film I have ever seen. No sun-spangled Aegean vista goes un-ogled. But again, as before, it somehow works.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The plot channel-surfs from past to present and back, covering the latest goings-on at Meryl’s Grecian B&B, while also filling in the original’s raunchy backstory. That was the “our last summer” of yore in which Streep’s Donna slept with three hunks in quick succession, leaving a big, glittery question mark over the paternity of her cherubic daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, who remains conspicuous among the cast for having vocal chops). 

In the present-day strand, Streep’s character has, tragically, passed away – though even death can’t stop her from turning up to sing Super Trouper as a ghost. (It also gives Brosnan the chance to break out a weirdly moving widower’s reprise of SOS.)

Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep

Sophie has refurbished her idyllic hotel in her mother’s memory, and has arranged a grand reopening for which the original cast, including Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, will be melodiously reunited. 

Back in the past, we see young Donna (Lily James, with the Streepian swagger down pat) arriving in Greece for the first time, where she is romanced by Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner as fresher-faced versions of Brosnan, Skarsgård and Firth.

Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Also tagging along are her uni sidekicks Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), who do an uncanny job of replicating the Baranski-Walters double act.

In fact, all of the casting is eerily accurate. Not only do the new members capture the look and body language of their older counterparts, they match their singing voices too: Skinner, who plays the Colin Firth role, performs Waterloo in the style of a man who has been asked by his optician to read the lyrics from an eye chart.

ABBA's fifth member: Stig Anderson

It takes the airy silliness of the Waterloo routine, with its dancing on bar-tops and air-guitar baguettes, for the film to settle into its groove. The opening number, When I Kissed The Teacher, is strained by comparison – an impromptu Oxbridge knees-up, whose gown-swishing antics feel out of place in a film whose soul is more OK! Magazine than Tatler.

But once things get underway, it is a smooth, silly, relentlessly uplifting run to the big party finale,  with its much-trailed cameo turn by Cher as Sophie’s grandmother, who arrives on the island by helicopter and immediately puts the moves on Andy Garcia’s Grecian playboy – whose name, by happy chance, turns out to be Fernando.

There is certainly something in the air that night: possibly vaporised Prozac. I left the cinema with a spring in my step that could have taken me to Skopelos in a single leap.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is released in UK cinemas on Friday July 20