MOVIE REVIEW: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018)

1 Hour and 54 Minutes (PG-13)

Mamma Mia

premiered on the stages of London in 1999, then a little less than 10 years later it graced American movie theatres, so it was only fitting that another 10 years would pass before we were given the next iteration.

A prequel hidden in a sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” picks up with Sophie, the eve before she officially re-opens The Hotel Bella Donna in honor of her mother. As she prepares for the hotel’s opening, The movie is both a prequel and a sequel, the plot is set after the events of the first film but transforms into a montage of the moments that brought Donna (Meryl Streep) to the beautiful Greek island of Kolokairi and Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) to her womb. To show their support of Sophie and to mourn the loss of their friend, Tanya (Christina Baranski) and Rosie (Julia Walters) arrive to bolster Sophie, showing her how her mother’s past will lead to her future.

When the announcement came that they were making a sequel, some audience members had PTSD flashbacks of Pierce Brosnan singing and an impending sense of dread fell over them. Many arrived with low expectations, myself included, but most were strangely delighted by the overwhelming amount of silliness and self-awareness the film provided. The casting of the Young Dynamos was incredibly spot-on, I don’t think they could have chosen better actresses to portray them; Young Donna (Lily James), Young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn), and Young Rosie (Alexa Davies) brought smiles to everyone’s faces and had instant on-screen chemistry.

Sophie’s potential fathers were a different story, the casting did well enough but it was clear their priorities were to find semi-decent voices attached to pretty faces, not necessarily actors who could physically mimic or grow into their older counterparts. Hugh Skinner managed the nervousness of Young Harry well enough but had too much confidence to truly sell his more anxious behavior. Young Bill (Josh Dylan) barely attempted any type of Scandinavian accent but at least he managed to be beyond charming in a surfer/sailor kind of way, Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) was one of the bigger disappointments because, while he could sing better than his older counterpart, the lustful romantic personality one would expect to sweep Young Donna off her feet just wasn’t there.

Overall, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is an over the top film, full of unrealistic moments of grandeur, brilliant choreography, a Cher cameo (looking more like Lady Gaga’s rich aunt), and of course an overwhelming amount of ABBA music albeit some of their lesser-known hits. While I feel that more of the songs felt forced into the storyline this time around, I think this film targets a very specific audience. It’s a silly summer film that will leave ABBA lovers feeling like true dancing queens.

PS: If you’ve ever wanted to see Pierce, Colin, and Stellan in glitter spandex then stay through the credits! My my, how can you resist that?

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Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and freelance film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.

MOVIE REVIEW: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Rated: R

 


Going In

In 2015, a new project from director Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer extraordinaire Mark Millar became a surprise theatrical hit, grossing $128 million domestically. As legend has it, Vaughn and Millar were at a bar one day discussing spy movies and decided that the genre had become overly serious. The two decided to make “a fun one”, which ended up being based on one of Millar’s comics, and Kingsman: The Secret Service was born.

In my opinion, Vaughn and Millar succeeded in their attempt to liven up the secret agent movie. I enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service (K:TSS) immensely and now have high expectations for its sequel. I’m particularly interested in learning how Colin Firth’s character (code name Galahad) returns and whether or not Julianne Moore’s new villain can reach the eccentric excellence that Samuel L. Jackson provided in the first film. The sequel is also pulling in some big names for what seem to be smaller roles. Will Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum enhance the film or be a distraction? The action will be grand, I have no doubt, and I’m crossing my fingers that the humor will work as well as it did before (vice following the raunchier trend of modern-day Hollywood comedies). Regardless of whether Kingsman: The Golden Circle wows me, I do expect to have a good time at the theater. If it turns out to be special, even better, but that would be enough.

 


COMING OUT

I went, I saw, and… I was let down. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (K:TGS) did not, in fact, turn out to be special. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a good time either.

In K:TGS, the Kingsman headquarters has been destroyed and Eggsy must unite with new American allies (The Statesman) in order to once again save the world, this time from a ruthless villain. One of my burning questions for this sequel was whether or not Moore could live up to Jackson and the answer is a resounding “NO.” Despite her fantastic performance as a bubbly psychopath drug lord, the character motivations are selfish and far less interesting than the thought-provoking topic of overpopulation that is explored in K:TSS. There is also an increase in the violent/gory content of the sequel (stemming from her ruthless nature) that I found off-putting and unnecessary. Another of my primary concerns was how the return of Colin Firth’s character of Galahad would be handled. To put it bluntly, it’s a complete joke. I was not the only one to sigh and roll my eyes at the explanation of how he survived the events of the first film, and his reappearance here retroactively lessens the impact of K:TSS.

With regards to those new American spies, it was disappointing how little screen time Channing Tatum was given. He was one of the few bright spots, stole every scene he was in, and yes, he dances. Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry are… fine. All of the American agents other than Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey feel like they’re window dressing or present only to set up bigger roles in a sequel. Oh, and can we talk about those code names? It’s quite obvious that the film is meant to be satire and poke fun at Americans, but whereas the Kingsman mythology is modeled after old knights and tales of honor, the American agency is modeled after liquor tycoons and its agents named after different brands of alcohol. This serves as a perfect example of how K:TGC takes a big step back by being overly silly in its stereotypes. Its numerous attempts at cultural commentary were a big miss for me.

Lastly, I have to address one specific scene that really ruined the movie for me. As mentioned above, my hopes were that the film would not be too crude. In one entirely avoidable moment, Vaughn instead pushed far enough that I will now choose not to let my young teenagers see the movie. And the question I kept asking myself is “why?” There are so many inventive technologies in this series, but when it comes to getting information from a gorgeous blonde that creativity manifests itself in teenage boy fantasy instead. Luckily, this overtly and uncomfortable sexual scene only occurred once, and Vaughn deserves some credit for attempting to fix his mistake with a certain Princess at the end of K:TSS. But even that still falls short and the film lacks any semblance of a strong female character.

To end on a high note, the film does feature one of my favorite scenes of the year. Mark Strong’s Merlin was a highlight in K:TSS and here he provides an emotional center to the film that I was easily able to connect with. This scene will forever change my thoughts when I hear John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Strong’s performance in this scene (and this series) is exceptional and has inspired me to seek out more of his work.

Verdict

Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes everything about its predecessor and cranks it up to 11. If you didn’t enjoy that film, you definitely won’t like this one either. My expectations were not met, I didn’t enjoy the film, and I’ve lost the desire to see future installments in this series. When Vaughn keeps the focus in Britain and on the Kingsman, it’s great stuff. Too much of this film is an on the nose joke or critique about modern day America, though, and the results are underwhelming.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.