The first “Magic Mike” was a surprise not just because it was the start of the McConaissance and because it took a chiseled action hero with a square chin and turned him into a bona fide sex icon. The whole look and feel of Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 film made it feel more art house than sexploitation.
“Magic Mike” was Soderbergh tinkering with genre yet again. In “Haywire” he had people who could really fight, so he made them fight and shot them in a way that didn’t hide it. In Channing Tatum, he had a guy who could really strip, and he definitely didn’t hide anything. The film was an experiment. But it was a modestly budgeted experiment that made $176 million.
Despite “Magic Mike’s” massive success, that film school explanation wasn’t quite good enough for a lot of women who really just wanted to watch a bunch of dancing naked dudes.
Rest assured, “Magic Mike XXL” has a lot more of that.
Soderbergh has passed on directing duties to Gregory Jacobs, but stayed on as cinematographer (with the pseudonym Peter Andrews) to give “Magic Mike XXL” that same art house look of classic mid-range shots, clever mood lighting and sharp, alluring coloring. But it’s such a refreshing and scandalous blockbuster because it has turned the story of identity and a seedy stripping community into a bro-tastic road trip movie and movie musical. Ladies will like it just fine, but “Magic Mike XXL” is also wonderful counter programming to the bros who sat through the hateful, thick-headed misogyny of the recent “Entourage” movie.
That’s because the bros of “Magic Mike XXL” don’t strip just so they can bang chicks; they want to make these girls smile. The film does just that when Mike encourages his cohort “Big Dick Richie” (Joe Manganiello) to go into a gas station convenience store and get the attention of a sad looking employee. “That girl looks like she’s never smiled in her life,” he says, but she will if the right tune comes on and if he puts his heart into his moves.
“Magic Mike XXL”’s plot concerns the Miami boys’ “one last ride” (maybe this is good counter programming for “Furious 7” as well) to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, but the film is actually an assortment of creative set pieces and isolated vignettes. They stop at a burlesque home where Mike’s former boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith filling in nicely for Matthew McConaughey in the emcee spot) manages black male dancers for an almost entirely black female clientele. But in addition to a dance or a sexy song (from an excellent Donald Glover/Childish Gambino) they get some guys who will listen and for a moment make them feel loved. When they crash a party of the moms of some of their younger girlfriends, they get close to women who haven’t been touched or appreciated for their beauty in years. And when the boys party on the beach, they reveal all of their ambitions and dirty pleasures, whether it’s for making smoothies or watching Oprah.
These moments arguably have more sexual tension and chemistry than anything on stage. It makes for a wonderfully feminist movie that doesn’t detract from the bro love fest. And no one would expect a movie about strippers to be this perceptive.
And yet Magic Mike himself is the reason you’re really “coming”. Channing Tatum is such a star. David Ehlrich wrote in Rolling Stone that Tatum is “this generation’s Gene Kelly, and ‘Magic Mike XXL’ is his ‘Singin’ in the Rain”. In what might be one of the best scenes of the year, Mike is building furniture in his woodshed, and when Ginuwine’s “Pony” comes on, Tatum literally starts making sparks. He moves so easily, and with so much more than just sex appeal. He makes love to his workbench, and from that early moment you know it’s on. He also keeps up with one of the best hip hop dancers in the world in “So You Think You Can Dance’s” Twitch, who choreographed everything and appears in the film’s supersized final dance number along with Tatum.
But Tatum is such a perfect Magic Mike not for his looks alone but for his goofy charms and immensely positive attitude. He loves his bros so hard, and rather than put downs and snarky one-liners he’s a goof who dishes motivational idioms to his buds and chats up the joys of eating Oreos to his girls. “Someone stole your smile,” he says to romantic interest Zoe (Amber Heard), “and you need it back.” SWOON.
The first “Magic Mike” was simply not a blockbuster, and it almost doesn’t make sense to compare the two films. “Magic Mike XXL” is on its own level, and even more so than blockbusters like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Furious 7”, it deserves its XXL suffix. Because when you combine the dancing, the charm, the guys, and the style, “Magic Mike XXL” has one massive package.
3 ½ stars