‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’: A sparkling indulgence of cheese, sun and Cher

If everybody in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again wasn’t having so much damn fun, it might feel like an ABBA tribute act that doesn’t play any of the hits. After all, the soundtrack of this 10-years due (but not demanded) sequel features mostly B-tier tracks by the Swedish all-timers; Disc 2 of “ABBA Gold”, if you will. And while the inferiority of the music, and visible sweat of the screenwriters trying to wrangle another 2 hours from a non-concept, make this an inherently problematic and imperfect sequel, it’s hard to fault Here We Go Again! for much anything else. It’s simply the most open-hearted, well-meaning musical gift anyone could expect in an impossibly warm July.

This film takes a Godfather Part II approach to its source material, acting as both prequel and sequel to the 2008 movie that has become — by design — a cult favourite for faux-cynical ABBA-heads like myself. In the present day, Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie is still mourning the death of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) and preparing to reopen their hotel on the Greek island of Kalokairi. Her husband Skye (still the extraordinarily uncharismatic Dominic Cooper) is in New York on a business trip; her three fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård) dotted around the planet. As she worries about the event she’s planning, she tries to establish a spiritual connection with the location and with Donna, and so we skip back in time to meet a fiery young Donna played by Lily James, irritating her college class with a graduation rendition of “When I Kissed The Teacher”.

For the most part, the James stuff is the lesser half of Here We Go Again!; though a winning presence, she’s neither doing a Streep impression nor building much of a new character, and the performance gets a little lost between musical numbers. The three actors playing younger versions of Donna’s suitors are impressive in their Brosnan/Firth/Skarsgård mimicking; even Jeremy Irvine gets to retread some War Horse territory and is the most likeable he’s ever been. James and these three actors effectively act out the story of “Our Last Summer” for 40-odd minutes, in Paris and on the island. The sun is out, the kids are pretty, what’s there to complain about?

In the Sophie thread, writer/director Ol Parker (ooh, an auteur!) brilliantly staggers the arrival of the various ensemble members for Maximum Audience Hype. So we’re treated to big entrances for Christine Baranski and Julie Walters’ characters — reduced to slight Horny Old Women stereotypes in this sequel, Brosnan singing a few lines of “S.O.S” sadly to himself, Firth and Skarsgård rocking in on a fleet of yachts in a “Dancing Queen” sequence that totally puts the first movie’s counterpart to shame, and the unspeakably majestic might of Cher landing a helicopter, rocking up with a cane and saying “Mes enfants! Je suis arrivé” like she’s… uhh… fucking CHER. Cher proceeds to sing “Fernando” with Andy Garcia, bringing the Godfather connection back around. Incredible stuff.

Eventually, even Meryl Streep shows up for an appearance she probably spent less time shooting than her photos for the poster campaign. Blue dungarees for the win. And through it all Parker demonstrates a respect for the iconography of the original, and for ABBA’s place in the postmodern zeitgeist (remember, when Mamma Mia! was released, Bush was president and I barely had a Twitter account) that keeps it dancing on a fine line of irony and sincerity that never gets too embarrassingly earnest nor cruelly self-reflexive. It’s intensely apolitical, ethnically cleansed to the max and weirdly sexual for a PG release. And it’s phenomenal fun.