‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’ Review: Plenty Of Heart & Soul, Not Enough Lily James — Or Cher

The sequel to 'Mamma Mia' is everything someone who loved the original could ever want — unless what you wanted was tons of scenes of Cher and Meryl Streep together.

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It’s been a decade since the legendary Meryl Streep graced the screen in blue overalls for the movie adaptation Mamma Mia, but with an ear candy-level catalogue like ABBA’s, a sequel was inevitable. Skeptics beware — Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was every bit as delightful as the first, fusing the untold, charming story of Donna’s past, with the widely assumed guesses about her future.

Yes, let’s get it out of the way now — the Donna Sheridan (Meryl) of present day is no longer with us. Taking place 5 years after the events of the first film, we learn right away that Donna has passed, though we’re never told exactly how. Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is left to carry on her legacy without her wild and vivacious mother, or her man Sky (Dominic Cooper) for that matter. Though the pair had decided to fulfill her mother’s dream of opening a hotel on the gorgeous Greek island of Kalokairi together, Sky has been offered a high-powered job in New York and it’s clear he prefers the isle of Manhattan over paradise. 

With the arrival of Donna’s best friends Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski & Julie Walters), the movie takes on two distinct chapters of her life: her past and the adventure that led her daughter Sophie to having 3 dads, and her family’s present, as they all attempt to find a way to manage without her. Indeed, much of the present day movie plot struggles to carry it’s own without Meryl — until Cher arrives, that is. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here — we need to to first talk about the film’s standout Lily James, who perfectly captures the spirit of Donna from the second she comes on screen. Her energy is contagious, her charisma is infectious, and her singing was not half bad! In the prequel portion of the film, Lily is tasked with explaining how Donna eventually came to Kalokairi, and the events that led to her sleeping with three different men very, very close together.  Lily’s version of Donna is one that could absolutely stand against Meryl’s, especially given she’s clearly taken a few tips from her. Admittedly, I could’ve watched the whole 90 minutes just of Lily, over jumping back and forth to see Sophie’s quest to open Hotel Bella Donna unfold.

Truthfully, I wasn’t invested in the present day story at all until the last 15 minutes, where things really stat to pick up. That’s when the original cast, including Donna’s conquests played by Pierce Bosnan, Stellan Skasgard, and Colin Firth, all return, along with the arrival of the one and only Cher herself, playing Sophie’s grandmother, Ruby (despite the fact that in real life, Cher is but 3 years older than Meryl — but whatever!) She shares a tender moment — and a song — with the totally underused Andy Garcia, her own lost lover from time gone by. And then, just as it feels like all is lost, Meryl reappears, sharing a duet with her daughter from beyond the grave, which will make you cry and cry and you won’t stop until the credits roll and you finally get what you paid to see: Cher singing WITH Meryl Streep. But I won’t spoil that for you.

As for the music, many of the ABBA standards are pulled from the original film to be revisited, like ‘Mamma Mia,’ ‘I Have a Dream,’ and, of course, ‘Dancing Queen.’  Standouts though include the romanticized reinvention of ‘Fernando’ for Cher and the ruckus dance number for ‘Waterloo,’ of which once you hear, you’ll be singing all the way home.    

Overall, the sequel and Lily James paid a perfect homage to their predecessors with feel-good performances and toe-tapping numbers you’d expect from a musical like this. But if they decide to go for a third, I’d suggest sticking with Lily playing young Donna and Cher — just Cher.