Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer
They say never go back, don’t they? Never retread old ground. But you see, I quite enjoyed Magic Mike the first time around, and so did a hell of a lot of other people. 167 million one dollar bills isn’t bad, as takings for stripper movies go. A sequel was inevitable. That said, the initial reviews about Magic Mike XXL I’d heard weren’t that impressive, so I wasn’t expecting great things from this movie. How wrong I was.
Whereas last time around, the plot centred on Channing Tatum’s eponymous character mentoring a green Adam (Alex Pettyfer), plus falling in love with said Adam’s sister (a disapproving Cody Horn), in XXL, Mike has long left the world of male entertainers behind, to contentedly run his own bespoke furniture business. Of course, any movie with Tatum in it would probably fare well at the box office, even if it was just two hours of recycled-driftwood dining table deliveries. Nevertheless, the interest is piqued when Mike decides to rejoin Xquisite Nightclub’s Kings of Tampa for ‘one last ride’ at the Strippers’ Convention in Myrtle Beach.
Very much a road movie, Magic Mike XXL sees Mike and pals Ken, Tito, Tobias, Tarzan and Richie travel up to the convention, falling out, reconciling with each other and taking the obligatory ‘mollys’ along the way. At times almost slipping into mumblecore (was it just me who found those trailer scenes difficult to catch?) the Kings stop at a drag club then hit the beach, meeting a gaggle of girls, including Megan (Carrie Ann Hunt) and her restless photographer friend Zoe (the excellent Amber Heard). As it’s their last show before they all go their separate ways – previous leader Dallas having left to go abroad for big bucks – Mike attempts to persuade the Kings to shake up the old firefighter/policeman/cowboy routines, and aim for something different. Richie (an intriguingly vulnerable Joe Manganiello) is at first dubious, but eventually comes round to Mike’s way of thinking. Backstreet Boys fans, be warned; you’ll never hear ‘I Want It That Way’ in quite the same way again.
After pushing both the mollys and the meditation too far, the gang find themselves at Rome’s strip club. Mike’s ex-flame, Rome (a confident Jada Pinkett-Smith) enjoys the Kings’ unexpected appearance, and fans of rap and 30 Rock will enjoy seeing Donald Glover’s turn as Andre. This is where we first get teased, too, and what’s on offer doesn’t disappoint. Having managed to get themselves to Megan’s house (watch out for Andie MacDowell in sassy mom mode), the Kings eventually make it to Myrtle Beach. Surprisingly, the stripper convention wasn’t a competition – I assumed the plot would revolve around this, like some sort of thrusting, adult Pitch Perfect – but instead, the last third or so of the film is dedicated to the Kings doing what they do best; entertaining us. It’s worth the admission money.
Whoever wrote those sniffy reviews obviously wasn’t in the cinema I went to. Magic Mike XXL is the sort of movie made for you to see with a bunch of mates, the louder and more raucous the better. As the lead and one of the producers, XXL is obviously Tatum’s baby, and he carries the whole thing off with aplomb. Both films in the franchise are billed as comedies, which in a way strikes me as odd, but in reality this fits perfectly. Tatum is a natural comic, and the stripping scenes aren’t seedy at all; as Viv Groskop points out in The Telegraph, the films don’t ‘… make you feel dirty for watching a stripper movie.’
Although XXL will never pass the Bechdel Test, a serious point can be made about its raison d’etre; this is a film primarily for straight/bi women, objectifying men with the same insatiable vehemence that women have been objectified with since the movie business began. To turn the tables a little bit, and acknowledge that women are a) interested in sex and b) visually stimulated is actually quite powerful. This is not just a film for ‘normative’ straight women, however; there is an awful, awful lot for straight men and LGBTQ men and women to enjoy about Magic Mike XXL – not least the bromantic relationships between the Kings themselves. Matt Bomer is, as ever, subtly powerful yet underused, and the movie is enhanced by Pinkett-Smith, MacDowell and Heard’s triumvirate of strong female characters. Whereas the Kings surprise us with their insecurities and imperfections, Pinkett-Smith, MacDowell and Heard’s characters enchant with their confidence and honesty.
Reid Carolin’s script is great – all of the characters in Magic Mike XXL feel real and relatable, though this is less surprising when you consider Tatum’s past as a stripper himself. The narrative doesn’t feel cheesy, which is no mean feat, as any plot involving stripping could so easily be tacky. Ultimately, XXL is all about the final scene, a scene which turns an already good movie into an excellent one. After Steven Soderbergh’s runaway success with the first film, director Gregory Jacobs had a lot to live up to with XXL, but he has easily surpassed expectations. There is no need for Magic Mike XXL to be as good as it is, in terms of storyline or acting. Its quality is testament to all involved, proving that crediting your audience with wit and intelligence pays off. It may not be an in-depth exploration of the human psyche or a worthy musing on global food security, but Magic Mike XXL is solid-gold entertainment. We all, at times, need to be entertained, and the crowd I exited the cinema with certainly left having enjoyed themselves. No movie-maker can ask for more. As far as fun, refreshing, feel-good cinema is concerned, Mike’s magic is extra large indeed.