By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

I must confess.  I am definitely guilty of being one of those men who used to be embarrassed for enjoying the infectious pop of Abba. During my teens, twenties, and thirties, I always denied liking any of the sugary sweet tunes Abba made.  Now that I am in my forties, I have finally come to terms with what shouldn’t have been a guilty pleasure.  The utterly catchy songs  of the Swedish pop group Abba should be enjoyed by all; however, judging  musical movies based on their catalog is something different.

After avoiding it for years, I finally watched the first movie adaptation of tbe popular musical play to prepare for reviewing its sequel.  Though I enjoyed the songs, and some of the performances, I feel that Mamma Mia! (the movie) lacks an interesting story, and quite frankly, has some questionable casting decisions–particularly, Pierce Brosnan, who should never have been cast because of his obvious lack of singing talent. Well, now that I have seen the sequel, I am happy to say that, even though the film is mostly fluff, it is much more enjoyable and better executed than the first one.

Amanda Seyfried reprises her role as Sophie Sheridan.  Several years have passed since the events of the first movie, and Sophie has decided to revamp and reopen the Greek hotel her late mother Donna (Meryl Streep) spent most of her life managing.  As the grand reopening day comes near, Sophie ponders the amazing life her mother had and the events which led to Donna living in Greece and raising her as a single mother. The film flashes back and forth to tell the audience Donna’s story–from the time young Donna (Lily James) graduated from college to her fateful travels which lead to meeting Sophie’s fathers Sam (Pierce Brosnan/Jeremy Irvine), Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård/Josh Dylan).

Written and directed by Ol Parker, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is actually a sequel superior in multiple ways to the first film.  Like The GodfatherPart II, this follow-up sheds much light into the story of the parent while continuing the story of the child.  Still, the story of the child, in this case, doesn’t cover very much ground.  The more intriguing and entertaining moments certainly have to do with Donna’s journey. This makes the film much more compelling and definitely enriches the Mamma Mia! lore.

Ol Parker’s direction also appears to be more skillful and the entire production looks more credible.  The great cinematography by Robert Yeoman and the meticulous editing by Peter Lambert improves on all of the production weaknesses all too obvious in the first movie.  Thee use of Abba’s catalog feels more genuine and relevant to the events in the story.

Though most of the cast is fine in the first film, I feel that the returning cast members offer better work here.  Ol Parker even utilizes Pierce Brosnan’s singing limitations well here, though he thankfully sings less.  New cast members Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, and all of the other actors portraing younger versions of the cast perform well.  The movie also features a charming performance by Andy Garcia and a diva-fabulous appearance by Cher.

For sure,  this entire affair is full of fluffy and sugary sweet bubble gum, but this is all perfectly appropriate for the songs of Abba.  The first film takes this approach, but suffers from a lackluster story and weak execution. This sequel, at least, tells a more interesting tale and is executed skillfully.  So, as a male, who once was ashamed to like Abba publicly, and as a scrutinizing film critic, I can publicly declate that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again offers a good time at the cinema with all of Abba’s lovable songs.

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