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Magic Mike XXL is The Godfather: Part II or the Aliens of the male stripper exploitation subgenre. The sequel captures the original’s brilliance and expands it into something bigger, broader, and, in this case, beefier. It plays like the lovechild of Magic Mike and Step Up, marking the next stage in Channing Tatum’s unstoppable rise to the top. The Chan can.
Three years after the events of Magic Mike, Mike Lane is living a version of his dream, running a custom furniture company from a small workshop in Tampa. Then the muse calls twice in quick succession. First he hears from Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and the remaining Kings of Tampa. The troupe are passing through town on the way to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Later, Mike receives a visit from the ghost of stripper’s past: Ginuwine. A generic music streaming device drops the singer’s 1996 hit Pony, which leads to series of ridiculous dance moves involving welders and power drills. The next day, he climbs into an ab-filled food truck headed for Myrtle Beach. And we’re off for “one last ride.”
That’s basically it in terms of plot: a bunch of guys go to a convention. On the road, they stop for a drag show, visit a classy male-subscription establishment and find shelter in the mansion of a flirty divorcee (Andie MacDowell). Matthew McConaughey does not return for financial reasons, but this Dallas-shaped hole is filled as soon as we meet Rome. Chillingly portrayed by a career-best Jada Pinkett Smith, she takes over as the troupe’s MC after Mike busts some convincing moves. XXL is also much more of an ensemble piece than the original. Fellow male entertainers Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Ken (Matt Bomer) all get to step up and develop a group dynamic with more bromance than all the 90s boy bands combined.
Speaking of 90s boy bands, the film’s single greatest and funniest scene plays out to I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys. Joe Manganiello performs a delightfully ridiculous striptease in a convenience store in the hope of coaxing a smile out of the grumpy till girl. The moment sums up the movie’s winning combination of nudge-nudge-wink-wink self-awareness, gleeful objectification of the male body, and genuine sexiness. The result is hugely entertaining, arousing and fun.
Magic Mike XXL also delivers a refreshing take on masculinity. While you can ask questions about the near complete absence of homosexuality in the MMCU (Magic Mike Cinematic Universe, coined by David Ehrlich), its depiction of male relationships is wonderful. It doesn’t take a degree in film studies or psychology to spot the rampant homo-eroticism between the guys, but it simply doesn’t matter. Here’s a group of grown men who attend a drag show, not as a joke, but just for fun. It is also a film about men who like women. Giving the ladies what they want is one of the main ideas running throught the narrative: nothing gives Mike & co. more pleasure than putting smiles on frustrated convenience store-employees, serenading women celebrating their divorce, or making thousands scream in a massive convention centre. The women are frequently addressed as “queens” who deserve care and attention. As such, a Hollywood blockbuster in which Adam Rodriguez sprays whipped cream from his crotch over the screaming girls is more progressive and has more to say about gender relations than most films.
On a technical level, XXL is every bit as slick and tight as its predecessor. Long-time assistant Gregory Jacobs replaces the now “retired” Steven Soderbergh in the director’s chair, but the latter’s fingerprints remain all over this project. The fact that Soderbergh found some time in his retirement schedule to function as cinematographer, editor and executive producer might have something to do with this. His camerawork is unlikely to receive much attention come awards season, but it probably should. In an age when most movies look the same, Soderbergh’s images are flashy and memorable.
The one possible downside are the characters. The sequel’s group-focus pushes Mike into the background a little bit and his pseudo-romantic subplot with Amber Heard is charming, but flimsy. The dramatic elements of Magic Mike go completely out of the window and Mike, despite Channing Tatum’s fantastic performance, loses some of his magic. Also, there is almost too much stripping. During the climactic convention, the film makes sure to give every single male entertainer their own moment in the spotlight. I’m sure many people will disagree with me on this issue, but I found this sequence too long and by the time we get to Mike’s spectacular mirror-number, I had enough. Magic Mike XXL is nonetheless the best summer blockbuster of 2015 (so far). It has something to say and delivers an XXL portion of sexiness, sun, and fun. It also leaves us hungry for more. Here’s hoping for XXXL and a Tarzan spinoff.