In the first Avengers movie, Thor smash-lands on top of a plane, golden locks billowing majestically in the wind after a flash of electricity (“Scared of a little lightning?” riffs Captain America. “I’m not overly fond of what follows,” replies Loki), and makes the crowd go wild. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again pulls off the same trick. The minute Cher’s Ruby Sheridan steps off her private helicopter, the audience gasps. When she makes her full appearance in a white pantsuit, silver-framed sunglasses and platinum blonde wig, completely uninvited (“That’s the best kind of party,” she teases), it screams.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again swaps fight sequences for musical choreography, but the deliverables are the same: a message teamwork and idealism, the plot-riffing gags, the explosions (in the case of Mamma Mia 2, fireworks), and plenty of ridiculous costumes. There’s little separating the MCU, a billion-dollar comic-book mega-franchise, from the MMCU: the ABBA-infused Mamma Mia! Cinematic Universe. The fandom is alive, and the potential for endless sequels is there. You just have to believe.
This weekend, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the sequel to 2008’s film adaptation of the popular jukebox musical Mamma Mia, premiered with promise, earning over $77 million worldwide. (The original opened to a few million less, and earned $609 million total.) This isn’t a surprise to fans of the ABBA musical; since the first stage production in 1999, Mamma Mia has had a healthy following of fans, becoming the eighth-longest running Broadway musical (and the longest running jukebox musical) of all time.
The original musical and the 2008 film tell the story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan, who lives with her mother, Donna, in a taverna on the charming fictional Greek island of Kalokairi. Sophie’s wedding is quickly approaching, and while her and her mother’s best friends have all been invited, she dreams of her father walking her down the aisle. The problem is Sophie doesn’t know the identity of her father. So, based on her mother’s diaries, she invites the three potentials — without telling Donna. Cue the hijinks, cue the hilarity, cue the ABBA.
The film adaptation worked fine as a standalone story, but in the vein of every big blockbuster franchise out there, Universal Pictures engineered a sequel that expanded the mythology, gave the sprawling cast fan-pandering moments, and dumped 10-tons of glitter on the premise. Thor has its Thor: Ragnarok, and Mama Mia! has Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is equal parts sequel and prequel, with flashbacks to Donna Sheridan (played by a charming Lily James) set alongside Sophie’s story. Donna sets off on a journey of self-discovery, meeting each of the three potential fathers; Sophie’s story, meanwhile, is tinged with more grief.
Spoilers, for those worried about losing a little of Mamma Mia 2’s oomph.
It turns out Donna has passed away in present day, and though we are never told how, the heartache is felt as Sophie plans the grand-opening for the hotel her mother worked her whole life renovating.
Donna’s story brims with bubbly, wide-eyed excitement. Much like how the suave heroes of action movies drive cool cars, play with neat gadgets, and win over the hot lady, Donna gets to follow her dreams and go to a distant Greek isle, dance with cute boys on boats, and charm the local tavern owners. When things get down, instead of hunting down the bad guy (in this case, the liar who broke her heart), Donna breaks out into a heartfelt and powerful version of “Mamma Mia!” with her best friends, Tanya and Rosie, reclaiming her happiness through song and dance. It’s a superpower.
The wink-wink comedy that works as a crutch to so many hyperactive blockbusters is the soul of the Mamma Mia! sequel. In one scene, Andy García’s mysterious hotel manager character looks out onto the ocean and says that there’s a storm brewing. Cue an actual storm raining on the hard work that Sophie put into the hotel’s grand opening and delaying the flights of the big-name celebrities in attendance.
But there’s no need to despair. Sophie is comforted by Tanya and Rosie and with a particularly inspiring version of “Dancing Queen” playing in the background, Sophie’s “dads” return to her in her time of need and three boats full of locals arrive for the party. Everyone’s happy!
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is self-aware, seizing the campiness of the original like a karaoke mic and owning it. There’s no real reason a whole restaurant needs to break out into song and dance alongside the younger version of Colin Firth’s Harry as he tries to woo Donna. The scene where Young Donna meets Jeremy Irvine’s Sam (the suitor she ends up with in the original) is set against a raging thunderstorm (uncommon in the Grecian islands during summer) as the two ride on his motorcycle on the way to calm a frightened horse that just happens to be in the picturesque abandoned farm house, making steamy eye-contact the whole while. The movie doesn’t need to explain why Andy Garcia is hanging around in a most mysterious fashion, only that Cher needs to lock eyes with him across the room and burst out into a husky-voiced rendition of Fernando as fireworks explode in the background.
The major difference between Mamma Mia! and the IP-driven blockbusters, and why many of the negative reviews can’t detect the similarities, is the attitude. The cast of these movies is predominantly female, and the character drama celebrates the joys, friction and quirks specific to women. The men of Mama Mia! serve as side characters and romantic interests, the same way that women in most action movies often do. While our heroines aren’t here to save the world, they’re there for one another. Still, it’s the same sort of group dynamic that shines in buddy-action films, except instead of bros helping bros through perfectly choreographed fighting, it’s women helping women and men helping women through perfectly choreographed song and dance sequences.
Fans started joking about the Mamma Mia! Cinematic Universe — or at least a franchise as long and ridiculously-named as the Fast and Furious series.
if we all pray hard enough we can make mamma mia the fast and furious franchise of musicals— miel (@miel) July 21, 2018
Sure, Mamma Mia: Kalokairi Drift is probably a distant dream, but the Mamma Mia movies are brimming with captivating side characters with rich stories of their own to tap into, not to mention ABBA’s robust discography. It only makes sense that fans are dreaming of spin-offs and sequels.
Hello @Hollywood when will the Mamma Mia Cinematic Universe give us a spinoff about Young Colin Firth discovering his sexuality in Paris? You can even use Waterloo for a third time!— Will Kellogg (@Will_Kellogg) July 22, 2018
Jurassic Park — already a trilogy — birthed another trilogy for the modern era, where no one learned from the mistakes of their predecessors. Transformers traded Shia Labeouf for Mark Wahlberg, brought in English legends and folklore and started giving the robots robot-swords. Star Wars gets the originals, the prequels, the sequels, and movies in the works for almost every side character who appeared on screen for more than five minutes and every plot point left unresolved. There’s no shortage of big name franchises pushing the limits to snag that next title in their series. As long as the ABBA back catalogue isn’t disintegrated in an extinction level event, there could be Mamma Mia sequels.
The formula is already there: star-studded cast, passionate fans, feel-good campiness. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again took 10 years to get off the ground, but it should be the beginning of a deluge of sequels. The MMCU deserves to join the line-up of top summer blockbusters.