In the cinematic mythos surrounding sequels, Aliens, The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight and Terminator 2: Judgment Day all go down as the greatest second offerings and now… er, Magic Mike XXL? Look, I hear you – I do. No one is more surprised than this reviewer that the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s lo-fi, gyrating Magic Mike managed to supersede the first. Not that the bar was exceedingly high – the first film was fine, better than expected, but it left a lot of potential untapped. The second? It’s hilarious, interesting and progressive while packaged in the marketable wrapping of toned man flesh. Magic Mike XXL picks up where the first left off, with Channing Tatum’s Mike running the successful furniture business he dreamed off despite struggling to balance the pressures of being an entrepreneur and having a personal life. He gets an unexpected call from Tarzan (Kevin Nash), informing him that the old crew are in town including Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez). After reuniting with his old crew of ‘male entertainers’, Mike decides to take a hump down memory lane and re-team with the boys for one final ride to the Something Something Stripper Convention.
The plot to Magic Mike XXL is inconsequential, because truthfully there isn’t one: sure, the start of the film is set up and events lead them from scenario to scenario but there’s no real driving force or motivation. It feels like a drunken night out with friends as you stumble from one bizarre event to another, occasionally bumping into familiar faces and also meeting some entirely new ones. Whether it’s a credit to the performers or the fluid screenwriting of Reid Carolin (who penned the first flick), for the most part Magic Mike XXL doesn’t feel scripted. The dialogue feels natural and improvised throughout its two hour length, which leads to moments of genuine hilarity and strange meandering in equal measure. Yet the thing is, you don’t really care. Whether there’s a reason for the lads to be in the weird scenario they’re in or whether a scene has wandered on 10 minutes after a clean edit point, it’s doesn’t matter. It’s endlessly entertaining in a way the first Magic Mike only dreamed of being. It’s also a lot more substantial.Magic Mike XXL happens to be one of the most progressive films in recent memory. Something that was glossed over in the first film was the link male stripping has to gay culture. The sequel now champions that connection: it’s sexually diverse and inclusive in a way the first film was not. It manages to encapsulate that drag queen aesthetic of making something from nothing. They show more than just ‘that actor dressed as a fireman’, they show the lads making and sewing their own costumes, designing set pieces and creating their own choreography. You see them embedded with drag queens and gay culture because, hello, at the end of the day they’re all entertainers and they all appreciate the different aesthetics and courage it takes to metaphorically get up on that pole. Through the earnest performances across the board, you gotta appreciate the evangelical zeal they bring to stripping. They’re not ‘male entertainers’, they’re healers and you can see they truly believe that shit – which makes you believe it too.
While it was clear Steven Soderbergh’s direction of the first Magic Mike so badly wanted to entrench the outlandishness of stripping culture in a gritty reality, XXL succeeds in a much more naturalistic and competent way under the direction of Gregory Jacobs. Having served as an assistant director and producer on pretty much every film from Ocean’s Eleven to Behind The Candelabra, he’s from the Soderbergh school of filmmaking in that he has the ability to disappear behind the camera completely and make the audience feel like they’re one of the people physically on this road trip with the boys rather than watching it from the safety of a cinema seat. Perhaps the most evident shift in his filmmaking – and due credit to Carolin also – is the seamless integration of race into Magic Mike XXL. With the exclusion of one of two supporting characters, the first film was a white wash. The sequel is a melting pot, giving us a rich world of characters from all different backgrounds, all coming together to do the same things: make money and entertain. There’s some superb mini-world building done mid-way through the movie when we visit a castle run and owned by the eternally fierce Jada Pinkett Smith as Rome: a super successful business woman and emcee. It’s the lads that need her help, that beg and bend to her will, which is a refreshing power play in the film’s dynamics. Also worth noting is Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino aka Troy from Community getting to put his skills as a rapper and improvisational comedian to great use in the role of Andre who is part-freestyler, part-stripper, all-suave (see also: Michael Strahan playing the mirror of Channing Tatum as Augustus).Magic Mike OG wasn’t the flip on stripper films like Flashdance and Showgirls that we all so badly wanted it do be. It wasn’t much deeper than the pelvic thrusts of its leads, despite its best intentions. Magic Mike XXL however, goes balls deep. It examines the impact ‘male entertainers’ have on their audience in a way that’s more than just ‘oh, they’re hot’ and ‘watch ladies get a wide on’. Through the supreme conduit that is Jada Pinkett Smith (praise her damn it!) the film - for a good portion - only ever refers to women as queens. Because they fucking are. The strippers are there to praise queens, thank queens, and give those queens what they deserve – whether that’s respect or a dance solo to Ginuwine’s My Pony. That’s not even to mention Amber Heard’s character of Zoe who – in the trailers – is pitched as Mike’s new love interest but in reality that couldn’t be further from it. The male lead has a platonic friendship with a bisexual woman who’s “going through a girls phase”. They never kiss, there’s no sexual tension between them and she doesn’t give up her sexual preference to Channing all over his Tatum. Even when he drags her up on stage for a bump’n’grind, it feels more like a joke between pals than the beginning of a romance. He never wants to seduce her, he just wants to make her smile. Do you have any idea how refreshing it is to see a male-female-friendship in a Hollywood movie that doesn’t end in penetration? It’s more refreshing then sticking a Mentos up your butt and dive-bombing into the artic. Besides the deeper things it has to offer in the form of inclusion, Magic Mike XXL is a movie that has everything. No, really. Ever wanted to see a Nine Inch Nails strip routine? This movie has it. How about five male strippers hopped up on molly? Has it. Joe Manganiello making sweet love to a bottle of H20 in a convenience store? Has it. Or maybe a Twilight Saga strip routine? Has. Fucking. It.
One of the most racially and sexually progressive films of the past decade, Magic Mike XXL goes a lot deeper than the pelvic thrusts of its stars by offering a hilarious and fluid road trip movie that dominates the first instalment in every measurable way.
Score: 4/5 [rating=4]