There’s a lot to be said for a film with absolutely no pretence.
Scratch that – there’s a lot to be said for TWO films with absolutely no pretence which know their audience and what it wants. Having Godfather 2’d the widely beloved original, we return to our fictional Greek island where everyone, and I mean everyone knows the lyrics to a dozen-odd ABBA show-stoppers. Featuring those that never quite made the cut in 2008 or are otherwise too good not to smash out again, we creatively transition between Sophie; Amanda Seyfried returning now ten years on, and ‘Young Donna,’ with Lily James taking on the earlier incarnation of Meryl Streep’s role with welcome aplomb.
Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard return, of course, to pick up a pay-check and have a few weeks of fun performing expensive karaoke while their younger versions flit away with James in the story we already know. Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are reliable fixtures, the latter a highlight throughout as she delivers a masterclass in deadpan.
No this is not Godfather 2, and it isn’t trying to be. It is however a better sequel than The Godfather Part III, even if Andy Garcia’s role this time around is largely relegated to the film’s second to worst rendition and most unnecessary storyline. Teaming up for a duet with, well, someone famous, only the downbeat rendering of Knowing Me, Knowing You misfires as badly.
The Name of the Game, Waterloo and a reworking of Mamma Mia by James initially absent the iconic rhythms stand out as toe-tapping delights, as does James’ extremely moving Andante, Andante. James, a better singer to be sure than Streep who here too demonstrates markedly improved vocals in an albeit small role, makes this film. Her energy and dynamism fill the sequel with the fun and fervour fans of Swedish juggernauts ABBA, that oh so special band blasted throughout living rooms, concert halls and every single karaoke machine that ever stood, will instantly recognise and love.
ABBA’s live performances are beloved even over and above their phenomenal studio renditions for a reason; the majority of their songs, and their most famous ones to boot, are best when belted out with those confounding tempos they just nail again and again. James and co more often than not capture semblances of that magic and that is why their return to Super Trouper, the best cover in the original and in this author’s humble opinion ABBA’s best song, like so many other versions herein are so welcome and ceaselessly listenable.
Brosnan is graciously given an opportunity to revisit his much lampooned staging of S.O.S in one of Here We Go Again’s more tender moments, while Skarsgard gets some of the funnier gags as we are reintroduced to him in Stockholm, which the film cringingly feels the need to remind us is in Sweden. Firth’s Harry is conversely magnificently short-changed; his character, one of the most beloved of the series, features little and to the extent that in his absence the sequel introduces at least one major inconsistency with the original. Salvaging this to a degree in a funny post-credits sequence, the addition, like much of the plotting, is treated negligibly.
Getting that bit much more of a cameo than Streep, Cher makes her touted appearance, as much a signal as any that this film is not for everyone. And it is not for everyone and especially so if you are not an ABBA fan, but for those who loved the original and are thrilled to see something different enough and still wildly enjoyable. It’s for those, this author among them, who grew up with the super troopers and couldn’t wait to see this with a cinema-full of people who know the lyrics to One of Us, and it’s for the excited patron in the back of our cinema who whispered loudly “Is that Cher? IS THAT CHER?!”
No the covers are never quite as good as the originals (save perhaps Andante, Andante) but that won’t matter to the millions this movie was made for, because we are all Pierce Brosnan murmuring, humming or full-throated singing along to that which we love alongside James who oh so thankfully knocks it out of the park.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is in cinemas now