Run time: 1 hour 54 minutes
Stars: Cher, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth
Director: Ol Parker
There may be no better balm for a turbulent summer than the ABBA-infused Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. There they go again — feet dancing, how-can-you-resist-'em tunes sticking in your head — and it doesn't matter that they sing a couple of the same songs as in the 2008 Mamma Mia!, because they're even better this time! It's the rare sequel that bests the original, which was a critical punching bag but drove star Meryl Streep, 69, to her box office peak of $610 million worldwide. And besides, this one disrupts Hollywood notions of aging by putting stars of all ages in the same mix.
The gang's all back for this jukebox musical reprise. Even Streep appears, despite a plot that has sent her groovy, free-loving single mama Donna up to that great commune in the sky the year before this film's 2018 setting. The action centers on the ascension to womanhood of Donna's daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). She's mourning her mother's passing and becomes pregnant herself — while launching a swanky Greek island hotel. Sophie's wedding to Sky (Dominic Cooper) was the climax of the last movie, but now their marriage appears to be crumbling.
Meanwhile, in alternating sequences, the narrative travels back to the origin story (that enchanted summer of 1979 when Donna was impregnated with Sophie by one of three suitors, played by Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth in the modern scenes), one pop tune of heartbreak or romance at a time. The vibrant Lily James plays the young Donna, with signature wavy golden locks, and the legend of the three hotties who could be Sophie's father gets backfilled. While the movie takes a few production numbers to spark, it catches fire with a vivid boy-woos-girl production number of ABBA's anthem "Waterloo," set in Paris. James adds sparkle, and her young suitors, played by Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner (the guys who grow up to be Brosnan, Skarsgard and Firth), add eye candy.
Yet what delights is the movie's decidedly multigenerational stance. As in the "Waterloo" production number, dancers are young and old, this shape and that, dark-skinned and light. While the younger set is sexy, there's still plenty of juice to Streep suitors Brosnan, 65, Skarsgard, 67, and the ever-debonair Firth, 57 (though Brosnan does not so much sing as amusingly honk). And Christine Baranski, 66, and Julie Walters, 68, are terrific as Donna's faithful besties. The original Mamma Mia! director, Phyllida Lloyd, 61, took a risk, showing faith in the material and in Streep's ability to break out of Oscar-movie mold to make a surprise global hit. The sequel's writer-director Ol Parker, 49, manages to top it, as well as add a little bit of vibrant orange fairy dust that may remind you of the $223 million grownup-focused Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies (which he also wrote).
In the end, Streep appears, endearing and joyful. But she's upstaged by the grand entrance of Cher, an incredibly youthful 72, as Ruby, Sophie's long-lost grandmother. Crackling in all her fabulousness, Cher mischievously delivers the love-and-revolution song "Fernando" and brings down the house. And the over-the-credits finale allows all the performers to let loose in a sequence that seems so liberated, it's like witnessing the film's wrap party lit by Champagne fizz.