How ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ Adds Layers and Nuance to the Original

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again poster featuring the entire cast.

In many cases, sequels or prequels don’t compare to the charm and appeal of the original. This is especially the case when there’s a recast of some sort, a character death, or a jarring change in the atmosphere that takes some viewers out. Yet, while some might disagree, this isn’t the case with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again; while it’s far from a perfect film, it benefits the characters beautifully.

There’s one pertinent detail that often permits people from enjoying the film for what it is, and it’s entirely understandable. Donna Sheridan didn’t need to die—not after everything she lived through and because of who she was, but at the same time, the death doesn’t feel forced or done solely for shock value. Instead, it feels like a reflection of life that sucks, in more ways than one, while still telling a story that viewers could care about. In every way where it matters, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again succeeds because it’s a captivating celebration of life that threads people together with stunning parallels and reiterates the importance of everlasting love.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Is a Celebration of Life

Lily James as Donna Sheridan smiling by the water in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
©Universal Pictures

To reiterate, Donna Sheridan didn’t need to die for the characters to celebrate her life and legacy, but in its exploration of grief, that matters still. Grief is a horrible part of our lives that no one ever wants to live through and no one ever gets over, yet it’s a universal heartache we can understand and connect with.

Still, though the sequel/prequel takes Donna Sheridan away from the audience, it’s a celebration of life in a way seldom present in media. From start to finish, the story is about Donna—her vision, her light, her spirit, and her undying love. As it takes us through the past and shows us the beginnings of her relationships with Harry, Bill, and Sam, it shows Donna’s growth and the origins of her life in Greece. It shows us how people fall in love with her and why. The best example of this is Maria Vacratsis’ Sofia telling Donna that she judges a character based on how they treat an animal, denoting the revelation that the farmhouse belongs to her.

In allowing the audience to see all parts of Donna Sheridan, her heartaches and her happiness wrapped in one thrilling ABBA song after another, the film digs deeper into emphasizing the importance of the life she’s lived. A large part of the film’s success also boils down to Lily James’ unbeatable performance as the character. It’s challenging to come into an already-established role filled by iconic shoes like Meryl Streep’s. Nevertheless, James rises to the task with every scene she’s in, ensuring that the character’s light remains a tireless presence in her embodiment.

Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again!
©Universal Pictures

Thus, because viewers have both versions of Donna, we now know her in a way we don’t know any other character, making her death feel much more personal and heartbreaking. It isn’t just the characters who are mourning her, but we are, too, as viewers. We’re crying alongside the storm’s ruins, and we’re a mess through all the new beginnings. Still, throughout the visceral heartache the film manages to convey, it allows the audience to celebrate her character by placing her centerfold and crafting the entirety of the story around her perpetual love that’s still very much alive. When Cher’s character, Ruby Sheridan, tells Sophie that her mother is still here before the Christening, it’s palpable because she is. The film immortalizes Donna Sheridan with the love that runs through her daughter and every person whose life she’s been a part of.

This is what grief ultimately is, and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again understands the weight of it by underscoring the colossal significance they all carry. The film isn’t ever saccharine or even borderline sadistic—it’s not trying to be heartbreaking for the sake of milking drama, but it’s carefully showing the importance of a specific character’s role in the lives she’s touched.

Donna’s Past and Sophie’s Present Feel Organic in Storytelling

Sophie and Donna singing "My Love, My Life" in Mamma Mia 2.
©Universal Pictures

Sometimes, storylines that intermingle like this can feel fabricated for romanticization. Yet, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, telling a similar story between mother and daughter, feels perfectly fitting. Sophie, finding herself pregnant in the same spot that her mother was when she had her, isn’t even serendipitous—there’s no word for it. It’s comforting, to say the least, proof perhaps of divine interventions that allow those grieving to feel closer to the people they’re missing.

In every sense of the word, this storyline makes perfect sense because while it also does happen in real life, the screenplay and execution play a vast role in ensuring that it feels natural. No one needs to sit and do the math to question logistics because the story is unclear about logistics. Still, what the story is clear on is the fact that Sophie’s full house juxtaposes Donna’s loneliness because of the promises she made and the life she’s lived, thereby further showcasing the film’s emphasis on celebrating the immense love Donna brought to the world, starting with her daughter’s.

Allowing Sophie to sing with the Dynamos while the cinematography marries the past and present make the sequences gut-wrenching and simultaneously healing. Seeing all three of the fathers, Sky, Rosie, Tanya, and everyone else in the room shows that the life we’re celebrating results from one influential woman whose heart was bigger than the moon.

The Heart Remains Fully on Display

Super Trouper number in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!
©Universal Pictures

In short, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again adds nuance and layers to the characters by threading the past and present to exhibit how far everyone’s come. There’s not a single person standing in the newly built hotel whose life somehow hasn’t been changed by Donna Sheridan’s love. At the same time, everything we see with Sophie’s revelations, how she works through her grief, and how she continues to honor her mother’s legacy allows us to understand the character more deeply.

Mamma Mia! is an astounding musical—everything it accomplishes through ABBA songs and stellar performances allows us to understand and care for these characters in myriad ways. Still, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes it one step further by allowing the characters to become a part of us. How we get to know them here because of everything we see brings their intentions, hearts, and love fully on screen, not just to tell us a story but to show us something intimate and warm in more ways than one. Together, the films co-exist as a comfort reiterating why leading with love leaves such a mark.


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