Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again review: this belated sequel is fabulous escapism

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Just the title alone sounds like a threat. That pun of a subtitle certainly doesn’t fill one with confidence that this ten-years-later blend of sequel and prequel is going to be any different to the rather ghastly original. Thankfully, whatever it was that kept the 2008 film from capturing the true power of ABBA’s greatness has been vanquished a decade later. Perhaps it’s just because the world is such a soul-crushing hellscape right now, but its loud and often shrill theatrics are a relative tonic and a refreshing change of pace. I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Set ten years after the original and one year after the death of Donna (Meryl Streep, who – don’t fret – does appear), Here We Go Again follows daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she attempts to renovate the Greek hotel her mother always wanted. In flashbacks we follow young Donna (Lily James) as she sets off for her European adventure and meets the three men (Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner) who would ultimately become Sophie’s joint-father (Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan).

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again shifts from strange and awkward to daggy and deliriously dumb

While it is very easy to dismiss, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again shifts from strange and awkward to daggy and deliriously dumb so easily that I didn’t even notice I had found myself smiling along to every goofy moment. There’s Lily James cartwheeling through an orchard for some reason, and wow suddenly there is a flotilla of Greeks sailing across the Mediterranean to the beat of Dancing Queen. Donna very inappropriately sings I Kissed the Teacher with a useless microphone at her Oxford College graduation. Seyfreid wears an ugly poncho for half the movie and Colin Firth wears satin pants so tight you can see what got him into this whole mystery pregnancy fiasco in the first place. Christine Baranski is still a lush and Julie Walters still can’t dance. It’s a hoot.

And then there’s Cher. The preview crowd I saw Here We Go Again with went nuts. That gleeful delight that greets this iconic Oscar winner upon her late arrival – decked out with a platinum white wig and sleek suit, her face hidden behind giant diva sunglasses – was a perfect encapsulation of everything that works with this film. She is aware of its inherent silliness and yet offers just enough of an emotional hook to pull it all together.

Cher lends the film’s final act a gravitas that, as delightful as they are throughout, the rest of the cast wouldn’t be able to offer. She anchors the poignancy that writer/director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) attempt to slip in at the last minute amid all of the glitz. Her performance of one of ABBA’s most famous songs, Fernando (which spent 14 weeks atop the Australian singles chart in 1976, a record held by the band for over 40 years), is the film’s best.

Unsurprisingly, Cher taps into the same sense of melodramatic passion that she lends her own music. In just her second big screen musical (remarkably, 2010’s Burlesque was the first), she swans in for a glorified cameo and steals the movie and shows everyone just how it’s done.

Of the other newcomers, Lily James proves a more ideal fit for the role of Donna than Meryl Streep. This manic character is still in obvious need of medication, but James’ dreamy blend of worldly, beachy and openly frisky is the perfect way of making us believe that she’d have men falling head over platformed heels for her. Of the three suitors, Jeremy Irvine comes off best, although Skinner with his Johnny Rotten tee and overly posh pronunciations make his big Waterloo number an entirely surreal two-and-a-half minutes that I don’t think I will ever be able to forget. Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davis are dead ringers for young Baranski and Walters.

Of course, the sole reason for Here We Go Again to even exist is to watch movie stars and insanely pretty people sing ABBA and as a musical it is leaps and bounds beyond the original. Even in most rudimentary aspects of filmmaking like sound design. Of course, most of ABBA’s most well-known singles were already utilised, and while a couple of those are reprised here, this just means some of the Swedish popstars’ less-played yet no less brilliant tracks get a spin on the jukebox in all of their xylophone and pan-pipe glory.

One of Us arrives early and shows significantly more attention to screen-craft across four minutes than the original film did over two hours. Songs like Angel Eyes, Adente Adente and My Love, My Life will hopefully remind audiences not as familiar with ABBA’s repertoire of their lyrical genius while offering genuine emotions for their performers to express. Only a subdued rendition of Knowing Me Knowing You truly disappoints.

Whatever its faults – like forgetting plot developments mid-scene and its extremely white optics – there is something to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that works as old-fashioned entertainment. Full of pep and feel-good adrenaline, second time is the charm for this silly confection.