“I don’t know how to sing about love when I’m not feeling it.”
I have a surprising confession to make: I’m a huge movie musical nerd (that’s not the surprising part), but I thought the first Mamma Mia movie was absolutely terrible. Obviously, I was in the minority: the 2008 ABBA jukebox musical grossed more than $600 million worldwide. So the second least surprising thing about the perfectly-named sequel, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, is that it took 10 years to get the band back together. The first most surprising thing is that I actually thought this movie was…kinda good.
“My family don’t really react well to foreign romances.”
In Mamma Mia, young bride Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) invited three men — Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) — to her impending nuptials on the Greek island of Kalokairi after learning that one of them could be her father. Meryl Streep starred as Donna, Sophie’s mother and the free-spirited owner of a Greek villa who could credibly get three different men to fall in love with her. The simple story stuck pretty closely to that of the smash-hit stage musical, which has grossed more than $2 billion since its debut in 1999 and is the ninth longest-running show in Broadway history.
So in order to make a sequel, the Mamma Mia team sort of had to start from scratch, and the conceit they came up with is quite clever. Here We Go Again is both a sequel and a prequel to the first film. Sophie (Seyfried) is preparing for the grand opening of Hotel Bella Donna as a tribute to her late mother. (Don’t worry, Streep Squad…the actress makes her presence felt in the sequel.) She has invited her three dads, but two of them can’t make it and a storm threatens to put a damper on the festivities. The story also flashes back to 1979, where a Young Donna (Lily James) graduates from New College at Oxford and sets about traveling the world. Along the way, she meets and has flings with Young Harry (Hugh Skinner), Young Bill (Josh Dylan), and Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) as she makes her way to Kalokairi.
Of course, I everything I just described is soundtracked to the music of ABBA, and both Mamma Mia movies set out the reflect the shamelessly big-hearted spirit of the legendary Swedish pop group’s songs. Here We Go Again certainly retains the cheesy, cheery tone of the first film — even Sophie’s brief marital struggles with husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) don’t put too much stress on the audience — which made me wonder why I enjoyed this movie and hated the first one.
It probably helps that writer/director Ol Parker made some smart decisions before the cameras even rolled. By setting virtually half the movie in the past, Here We Go Again shows us a different side of the same characters while shifting song-and-dance responsibilities away from some of the less musically-inclined cast members. (That’s a fancy of saying the less we get of Pierce Brosnan’s singing voice, the better.) The idea of exploring Donna’s relationships with Sophie’s three dads is good enough on its own, but the sequel really lives up to its Mamma Mia title. This is a movie about mothers and daughters, flashing back and forward in time during comparable moments in Sophie and Donna’s memories. On top of that, the movie also introduces us to Donna’s mother Ruby (Cher), who prioritized her own singing career over being a mother.
James had enormous shoes to fill following Streep’s winning performance from the first film, which was one of the few things I liked about the first film. The actress is largely up to the challenge, mimicking Streep’s energetic body language and vivacity from the first film. (You can see why James was chosen to play Cinderella a few years ago.) Here We Go Again is also savvy enough to give Cher an appropriately grand entrance towards the end of the film, and her “Fernando” duet with Andy Garcia (who plays kindly hotel manager Mr. Cienfuegos) is one of the movie’s highlights. As for the rest of the new cast members, I was mostly amused by the overly obvious connections between the new and old cast members: it turns out that Donna’s scene-stealing buddies Tanya (Christina Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) have had the exact same hairstyle since 1979, where they’re played by Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies, respectively.
The returning cast members fit snugly into their roles. It’s not major spoiler to say that Sophie’s three dads end up reuniting — Brosnan, in particular, brings some surprising gravitas to preposterous proceedings — following an epic “Dancing Queen” group number that brings ABBA to the seas. Meanwhile, Streep is in this movie for about the same amount of time as it took me to type this sentence. But her climactic performance of “My Love, My Life” alongside Seyfried is legitimately affecting.
But while the movie ends strongly, there’s still a fair amount of cringe-worthy dialogue and dancing to get through. For a movie witch such a thin story, Here We Go Again’s 114 minute running time feels flabby. (Even though it’s actually not terrible considering we have double the number of characters from the first film.) Maybe I’m getting softer in my old (not really) age, but I was more willing to go on this sunny, fantastical trip this time around.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The ultra-high definition 2160p image is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 72 mbps. Much of the film takes place on the fictional Greek isle of Kalokairi, which results in consistently resplendent ocean blues and lush greens throughout this picturesque HDR presentation. (The film’s opening shot nods at the fact that you could freeze frame pretty much any portion of this movie and put it on a postcard.) The sunny setting also means we get exceedingly warm flesh tones for the universally tan cast. The ‘70s-set sequel also boasts a groovier palette for Donna and the Dynamos’ wardrobe, so colors really jump off the screen. Overall, this is a tremendous, reference-quality presentation that helps add to the fantasy element of this gleefully silly movie musical.
The Dolby Atmos defaults to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, which is what I’ll be reviewing here. With apologies to Amanda Seyfried, Cher, Meryl Streep, and the other bold-face names on this cast, the star of the show here is ABBA. Both Mamma Mia movies are essentially two-hour blasts of joyful noise, but this particular track makes the Swedish pop group’s songs sound completely fresh. ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson produced the sequel’s soundtrack album, and this seven-channel presentation helps reveal the subtle, relentlessly cheery complexities of the group’s compositions. The subs also bring an extra layer of heft to the bigger group numbers and (in non-music news) some much-needed rumble to the stormy stable scene where Donna and Sam bond.
The bonus material is available on both the UHD and Blu-ray copies of the film. The Main Menu offers a “Play with Sing-Along” option that activates appropriately colorful and lively subtitles during the movie’s musical performances.
Deleted/Extended Songs and Scenes: There are four scenes with optional commentary by writer/director Ol Parker. That includes extended versions of “The Name of the Game” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” but the most interesting entry is a deleted scene with Young Donna singing “I Wonder” before setting off on her travels. There is no Play All option.
High Jinks: (1:09) A quickie musical gag reel featuring the cast — including ABBA’s Benny Andersson during his “Waterloo” cameo — dancing and goofing around.
Enhanced Sing-Alongs: (46:37) Are you an ABBA superfan who has little time for trivial things like “plot” and “dialogue”? If so, you’re in luck! This “Enhanced Sing-Along” mode has helpfully cobbled together all the movie’s musical performances in one place. Features a Play All option.
The Story: (5:33) Producer Judy Craymer is the focus here. She gets credit for conceiving of a jukebox ABBA musical, and this featurette examines the impact of the stage show and subsequent movie adaptations.
Mamma Mia! Reunited: (3:33) Cast and crew members share how thrilled they were to reunite for the sequel a decade after the first film. (Although Colin Firth admits he was on the fence until he heard virtually everyone else was returning.)
Playing Donna: (2:28) Lily James talks about having to fill big, Meryl Streep-sized shoes for the sequel and copying the actress’s physicality from the first film. Meanwhile, Streep was clearly excited to slip back into spandex, even if only for a brief moment.
Sophie’s Story: (3:30) Star Amanda Seyfried was only 21 when she starred in Mamma Mia! a decade ago, and the actress talks about how much the franchise has meant to her. There’s also a quick breakdown of the great “My Love, My Life” scene.
Meeting Cher: (3:43) Streep — who, by the way, appears more in these featurettes than she does in the actual movie — unleashes a very strong impression of Cher singing “Fernando.” Cher herself talks about seeing the stage show three times, while other cast members reveal how star struck they were to see her on set.
Costumes and The Dynamos: (4:59) This time around, much of the story takes place in 1979. The result is a brighter, even more colorful palette for Young Donna and The Dynamos than we saw in the original film (which wasn’t exactly film noir).
Choreographing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: (7:25) Choreographer Anthony Van Laast worked on the Mamma Mia! stage show and the first film. This featurette focuses on the ways Van Laast adapted and expanded the dance moves from the first film (which was pretty much a big screen reproduction of the stage show) for the sequel’s original story.
Cast Meets Cast: Two pairs of cast members charmingly interview each other about their favorite ABBA songs and portraying the same characters: Tanya Meets Tanya (3:10) features Christine Baranski and Jessica Keenan Wynn, while Rosie Meets Rosie (3:15) features Julie Walters and Alexa Davies.
Curtain Call: (3:59) Focuses on the dizzying musical performance of “Super Troupers” that plays over the end credits. This sequence is also the only time all the movie’s cast members are in the same place at the same time.
Dancing Queen — Anatomy of a Scene: (3:26) Covers the making of the massive “Dancing Queen” sequence, which featured 150 dancers and had to endure some rough waters while filming the performers on boats.
Cast Chats: There’s a Dynamo Chit-Chat (2:42) with James, Wynn, and Davis talking about feeling like the Spice Girls as they practiced becoming The Dynamos, while Dad Chat (2:19) features Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan reminiscing about their big musical moments and dancing alongside their older selves (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard, respectively) for the movie’s finale.
Performing for Legends: (2:46) Cast members talk about feeling nervous recording their vocals in front of ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, who produced the soundtrack album.
Class of ’79: (3:48) This featurette is about the search for younger performers who could complement the work done by the original actors in the first film. Irvine busts out a solid Pierce Brosnan impersonation, while Davis had received a Julie Walters autobiography as a gift prior to being cast as Young Rosie.
Today Interview with Cher and Judy Craymer: (4:34) Kathie Lee Gifford interviews Cher, who reveals that she handpicked Andy Garcia to play “Mr. Cienfuegos,” while Craymer reiterates that Here We Go Again is both a sequel and a prequel.
Feature Commentary with director/screenplay writer Ol Parker: The filmmaker is an excellent guide through every aspect of the production, including filming in Croatia and the mechanics of the time-jumping script. (Parker also cringes at his own dialogue when Sophie and Sky argue on the phone early on). Meanwhile…
Feature Commentary with producer Judy Craymer: The creator and producer of “Mamma Mia!” (the stage show and the first movie) offers a deeper perspective on the material and characters. She also revealed that she got the “Godfather II” idea of exploring the past and present with this sequel from screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually), who earned a “Story by” credit for Here We Go Again.
I bet you didn’t expect Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to end up in the same sentence as The Godfather 2. And while I’m definitely pumping slamming the brakes on comparing this goofy lark to one of the greatest sequels of all time, Here We Go Again is a clear improvement over the first film.
This UHD-Blu-ray release from Universal boasts a reference-quality A/V presentation and an impressive trove of bonus material. As for the movie itself, this is a must-have for ABBA fans. If you don’t like ABBA and/or hated the first film…you’ll probably still roll your eyes through much of the sequel, but it’s flat-out a better movie.