Movie review: The new “Mamma Mia!” puts the music first

Almost exactly a decade after the iconic 2008 jukebox musical film, the story of Sophie, Donna and her three fathers portrayed in “Mamma Mia!” has returned to theaters with “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” The all-star cast featuring the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Colin Firth and many more returns to the screen, alongside newcomers such as Lily James and Cher. The viewer is once again welcomed into the serenity (alongside chaos, at times) of Kalokairi, Greece — although the filmming was done in Croatia — and is given an in-depth look into the events that took place before the start of the first film.

Because of the movie is a sequel, it may be somewhat complicated for a view who hasn’t seen the original. Spoiler alert (although it has been widely reported): Meryl Steep’s character, Donna, has died (although we don’t learn why). As producer Judy Craymer told USA Today, “She said: ‘If there’s a way I can be involved, I would love that. But I’m never going to be singing nine songs, running on the cliff tops again.’”

So the movie turns a death into a rebirth: It was her mother’s dream to renovate her hotel, and now Sophie, her daughter, assumes the role of the business entrepreneur.

The choreography of this film is mesmerizing. It’s clear to see the effort the choreographers and cinematographers put into making every single movement picture-perfect. The cinematography in songs such as “When I Kissed the Teacher” and “Waterloo” is astounding.

For instance, in “When I Kissed the Teacher,” the shot of Donna and the rest of the graduating class riding off into the unknown gives the viewer a taste of the adventure depicted throughout Donna’s story. The sudden spontaneous dance numbers add a sense of fun and humor to the movie, making it an essential part of what builds its atmosphere. From the way every motion is carried out to the way it is captured, the choreography is certainly the most memorable aspect of the film.

Though the film perfectly encapsulates its musical roots, it falls short in dialogue. The choreography serves as mesmerizing and hypnotic at times, which keeps the audience engaged and in awe, until characters interact outside of extravagant dance routines. The movie’s writing isn’t an issue, but sometimes the delivery falls flat, as if the actors were reading their lines through a teleprompter during filming.

It seems like the film’s casting directors valued musical ability more than pure acting when deciding roles for the movie, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing for a jukebox musical. Some lines even feel like they are being said in a live performance, which could be because the film’s predecessor is an adaptation from a musical. Either way, the film’s beautiful scenery and joyous music help build the ambiance much more than the characters brief exchanges.

In addition to dialogue, characters that seem to be important to the plot are barely shown. Sky, Sophie’s significant other, seems pivotal at the beginning, but then is barely mentioned or talked about. While the film perfectly depicts Donna’s back-story of how she came to the island, it seems to lack in its new scenarios. Sophie’s grandmother, Ruby Sheridan, portrayed by Cher, does not appear in the film until the final scenes. While her diva-esque humor certainly brightens the mood and excites the viewer, she has no influence on the plot, other than to briefly reunite with a long lost lover. These connections and side plots run rampant throughout the film and can be distractions to the overall storyline.

But its upbeat songs by legendary Swedish pop group ABBA, choreography and joyous atmosphere make it memorable and heartwarming.