Fans of ABBA songs get a chance to hear more, often danced to, in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go again,” written and directed by Ol Parker. As for the story, once again it is used to highlight the music, and there is a confusing back and forth between past and present. Still, as far as sequels go (and partly a prequel), the film offers plenty of visual splendor, enthusiastic singing and cavorting and the sort of in your face entertainment that made the stage musical so successful and was carried over into the original film.
But lovers of Greece have a right to be disappointed. This time the film was not shot in Greece but on the Croatian ilse of Vis, a stand-in for Greek island magic. Other filming was done in England.
The musical early on introduces a young Donna, a role originally portrayed by Meryl Streep, with Lily James now playing her graduating from school and in a ceremony bursting into a rousing performance of “When I Kissed the Teacher,” with everyone exuberantly joining in.
But in the updated setting Donna has died, and her daughter Sophie is played by Amanda Seyfried, whose love, Sky (Dominic Cooper), wants to pursue the hotel business in New York and not follow her to the Greek island, where she is committed to opening the Hotel Bella Donna in honor of her departed mother. There is much mourning for the late Donna, and we might also mourn the absence of the ever-wonderful Streep from most of the film. But coming to the rescue, Streep does turn up elegantly in ghostly fashion near the end.
So does Cher as Sophie’s grandmother, who was not invited to the opening party, but descends from a helicopter ride and makes a dazzling impression, especially when she bursts into song at the festivities. (Try the arithmetic of Cher playing the mother of Meryl Streep.)
Seyfried, over-the top bubbly and cutesy as Sophie, steams with energy. Holdover characters from the first “Mamma Mia” are there, including the three men, one of whom as a result of Donna’s’s dalliances could be Sophie’s father. She treats all of them her as her dad, played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.
Rest assured that through all of the plot manipulations basic romantic problems are worked out. The character population is too voluminous to list here, from the young men of the past to the young men of the present, and to the other veterans of the previous “Mamma Mia.” Plot aside, the ABBA songs are the real stars of the film, including “One of Us,” “Waterloo,” “Kisses of Fire,” “Angel Eyes,” “Dancing Queen,” “Fernando,” “Super Trouper” and many more favorites. The choreography is lavish with everyone often in motion and the look is glitzy. This is the sort of easy-on-the eyes-and-ears movie musical that defies too serious analyzing. It’s aimed at audiences who enjoy the music and can go along with the humor, shameless sentimentality and unabashedly showy performances. A Universal Pictures release. Reviewed July 22, 2018.