“Can you touch this? Can you touch this?? No, no, no, no, no, no.”
Those words, echoed by many fans everywhere (including myself) on a weekly basis, made Dallas, the Texas-born stripper (sorry, “entertainer”) a cultural sensation. But it wasn’t this character alone that made Magic Mike so popular, but rather who was delivering it. As a part of the McConassiance, Matthew McConaughey’s role required him to be all-out fun and crazy, introducing his infamous “Alwright, alwright, alwright” line to the world.
And with the ever quotable McConaughey gone, Magic Mike XXL could’ve taken this as a crippling blow. However, once the absence of Dallas is addressed in the opening minutes of the film, we learn to move past it, even if it doesn’t go down as easily as we’d like. What we also have to swallow with trouble is the ideology of XXL, which seems to have a completely different worldview from that of the first film, even though both are written by Reid Carolin.
The first Magic Mike was terrific, a spectacular tour de force changeup for director Steven Soderbergh. And the beauty of that film was the bait-and-switch method of marketing, which aimed itself toward the female audiences with sweaty abs and swinging asses but ended up satisfying male audiences because of its exploration of the male characters; their wants and desires and their life goals. Because little did the female audience know, Channing Tatum’s Mike didn’t want to be a stripper for the rest of his life. He wanted to really make something of himself, and the first movie was his journey to find that. And he did, and that is where Magic Mike XXL picks up.
We’re three years after the closing events of Magic Mike. Mike has gone off to do his own thing (he’s the owner of his own roofing company), and the Kings of Tampa have recently suffered a blow with the loss of Dallas. But, since we’re beginning a new movie with Magic Mike’s name in the title, it’s impossible to assume that this is the end of the story. So, with this new film, the Kings of Tampa set off for one last ride, a road trip to a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach, and along for the ride is, of course, our heroic title character.
I use “heroic” to describe Mike because he is, in his own way, the film’s hero. He is the one stripper who really doesn’t seem perfectly content with being a stripper except when he’s in the moment. And where the first film focused on Mike outside of the moment (his internal conflicts and desire for something better), XXL focuses on Mike in the moment. It takes everything about male stripping that the first movie seemed to warn us against and makes it okay this time around, but it does emphasize that it’s only okay for a limited time. And to be honest, I kinda loved it.
As stated, it’s certainly not the same movie as the first Magic Mike. It’s similar in that it may let down its female audience (except the final juicy twenty minutes), with around an hour and a half of conversations and lush cinematography and characterization (which we film nerds have come to love about the Magic Mike movies).
However, what’s different this time around is the attitude toward stripping, which is, in this movie, glorified for the feeling it gives its women subjects (did I just say subjects?). There is a moment in the third act of the movie where Tatum’s Mike is in a g-string, grinding on a girl’s face and all she can do is smile, clearly loving it, and it’s then that we realize just what these movies are about. No matter what Mike is told he needs to do with his life, he knows what makes him happy, and he knows that he belongs with the Kings of Tampa, even if only a short time. And this is all because he loves making people feel special, in his own special way.
As Mike, Channing Tatum is spectacular, and I’ve said before that I count myself among those who used to mock him for taking any project that required him to show off his abs (see Step Up or Fighting). Now though, Tatum has become something so much more than your average ab-fest, with a hefty list of versatile performances ranging from his comedic ones in the Jump Street movies or his dark and flawless one in Foxcatcher. As Magic Mike XXL unfolds and we see Mike enjoying himself but also evidently fighting with himself inside, Tatum shines. But not as much as when he’s dancing. Man, when this man takes the stage, watch out. His moves are the type to make a straight man blush, and that’s coming from a straight man whose heart was beating rapidly when Tatum started spinning and grinding. It’ll make you jealous, hot, and everything in between.
The rest of the cast is just as good as they were the first time around, with the standouts being Matt Bomer as Ken, Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie, and my personal favorite, Kevin Nash as Tarzan. These guys have the moves, and when we aren’t busy worrying about their futures in their downtime, we’re busy watching them get down on stage.
But as fun as it is watching Tatum and company show us their moves, the main reason I love these movies is because of the technicality of it. Steven Soderbergh, one of the finest directors (ever?) has stepped down from the director’s chair this time around, but he hasn’t left. He’s an executive producer, and he’s also the cinematographer. This alone is what gave me hope for the sequel after I heard McConaughey would not be returning. And, as I expected, this movie looks just as gorgeous as it did the first time we met these characters. Soderbergh is a true talent behind the camera, even if that means he isn’t calling of the shots. And the cinematography in XXL is artsy enough to confuse its target audience and enthrall the film nerds.
But Soderbergh’s absence doesn’t necessarily mean that the film’s vision is lost. It’s a bit distorted, sure, but Gregory Jacobs, who worked as assistant director with Soderbergh in the past (see Oceans Twelve, Oceans Thirteen, and the first Magic Mike) seems to get it. While the first two acts may not have as many stripping scenes as the ladies expect (or crave), there are a few to get them by, as the true fans of the franchise (the Soderbergh fans out there) are graced with good storytelling and beautiful visuals.
As XXL goes on, it begins to feel like a larger character piece than even I was expecting, with not much stripping at all (which I’m sure dissatisfied the ladies in the audience). But all that is set aside when the road trip ends and they reach their destination. The final twenty minutes of this movie, which takes place on July 4th weekend, is nothing short of pure dynamite, bringing the best fireworks show that anyone saw this Independence Day. Maybe the most entertaining twenty minutes of any movie this year (so far).
I can’t count on two hands how many times I’ve had to explain to people why I watched Magic Mike, and I couldn’t count on four hands how many times I’ve had to explain why I liked it enough to watch it again and buy it on Blu-ray. But I’ve had those conversations, and I’m expecting to have them again. Because Magic Mike XXL is awesome. Here’s to hoping for a third entry with McConaughey returning? Let’s band together and hope.
‘Magic Mike XXL’ (2015)
1 hr. 55 mins.
Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use
Starring Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodríguez, Gabriel Iglesias
Written by Reid Carolin
Directed by Gregory Jacobs