So what really happens to Meryl Streep in 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again'? (SPOILERS)

Does Donna (Meryl Streep) makes a beyond-the-grave cameo in the <em>Mamma Mia</em> sequel <em>Here We Go Again</em>? (Photo: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Does Donna (Meryl Streep) makes a beyond-the-grave cameo in the Mamma Mia sequel Here We Go Again? (Photo: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Warning: This post contains big spoilers for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Due respect to every Marvel superhero who perished (or did they?) in Avengers: Infinity War, but the death that moviegoers have really been mourning is Meryl Streep’s rumored exit from Mamma Mia! cinematic universe. Ever since the trailers for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — the new sequel to 2008’s ABBA-tastic box office smash — hit the Internet earlier this year, fans took note of several clues suggesting that Streep’s overalls-wearing, Grecian island-dwelling dancing queen, Donna Sheridan, had shuffled off this mortal coil in the decade-long hiatus between movies.

Naturally, the film’s marketing materials continue to play it coy, conspicuously placing Streep front and center in all the billboards alongside an ensemble cast consisting of returning favorites like Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, and Pierce Brosnan, as well as franchise newcomers like Cher and Lily James, who plays the younger version of Donna in extensive flashback sequences. As Friday’s release date approached, Twitter went into overdrive trying to figure out whether the Oscar-winning star would be reprising the title song in the here and now or if she had already passed on to that great disco in the sky.

Now the answer can be revealed: Donna is dead, but Streep appears in Here We Go Again anyway and squeezes two ABBA standards into her brief screentime. However, only one of those songs is sung from the Great Beyond. Confused?

Here’s our Here We Go Again explainer: the film picks up five years after the original Mamma Mia! and one year after Donna’s passing from unspecified causes… though we’re thinking her propensity for dancing on unstable rooftops may have been a factor in her death. Since her untimely demise, her daughter Sophie (Seyfried) and husband Sam (Brosnan) have followed through on her dream of transforming that dilapidated farmhouse she called home into a luxurious hotel.

With that work now complete, a grand opening night party is next on their agenda, boasting a guest list that includes Donna’s best friends and bandmates, Tanya and Rosie (Baranski and Julie Walters), as well as the other two dads in Sophie’s life, Harry and Bill (Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård) and her mostly absent grandmother Ruby (Cher). Interspersed with the present-day sequences is a ’70s-era storyline that depicts how Donna came to live on the island of Kalokairi and meet the trio of men who now peacefully share paternity of Sophie.

While Donna may be dead, the circle of life continues with her daughter’s climactic discovery that she’s about to become a mother herself. That realization solidifies Sophie’s once-wavering desire to remain on Kalokairi and raise the child with Sky (Dominic Cooper). Following the opening night festivities, Here We Go Again takes a nine-month time jump to their baby’s baptism on the island’s clifftop church. Past and present collide as we see Sophie and young Donna enter the house of worship in their respective time periods, each holding their babies close.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Donna (Streep) sing one last ABBA song together in <em>Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.</em> (Photo: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Donna (Streep) sing one last ABBA song together in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. (Photo: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection)

As James approaches a waiting bowl of holy water, the camera pans down and when it pans back up, a beatific Streep has taken her place and gazes adoringly at her child and grandchild, confirming a sentiment that Grandma Ruby expressed earlier about Donna still being present in spirit if not body. Unseen by the crowd, ghostly Donna proceeds to sing “My Love, My Life,” with Sophie — a moment that packs a hefty potent emotional punch after the light-hearted silliness of the previous 100 minutes.

Streep also returns, in the flesh this time, for the closing credits encore performance of “Super Trouper” that quickly becomes a raucous all-cast sing-a-long where the walls between characters and actors are torn down. That allows for crowd-pleasing shots of the younger versions of Harry, Bill and Sam clowning around with Firth, Skarsgård, and Brosnan, and awards James and Streep the opportunity to sing side-by-side. Even Cher gets in on the fun, sharing a moment with her Silkwood co-star as the entire ensemble lines up for the final curtain call.

Cher plays Seyfried’s grandmother in <em>Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.</em> (Photo: Universal Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Cher plays Seyfried’s grandmother in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. (Photo: Universal Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection)

So that’s one mystery solved, but the question remains: were the filmmakers wise to kill off Donna in the first place? Truth be told, Streep’s absence is deeply felt from Here We Go Again, making you appreciate all over again how effortlessly she enlivened the original movie. Even though James’s appealing presence improves the flashback sequences, she can’t equal her counterpart’s star power. On the other hand, Sophie’s own story in the sequel arguably benefits from the fact that her mother is no longer in her life. And relegating Streep to cameo status also allowed them to afford Cher’s paycheck — money the the Hollywood legend absolutely earns when she tears into “Fernando,” one of the few major ABBA hits that wasn’t performed in the previous Mamma Mia! Besides, now that we’ve established that Donna’s ghost is haunting Kalokairi’s church, she can always contribute a tune or two to future installments. As history has shown, it never hurts to take a chance on more Meryl Streep.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is in theaters.

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