Directed by Gregory Jacobs; Written by Reid Carolin
In Magic Mike XXL, Mike Lane’s return to the life of a male entertainer as one of the Kings of Tampa is no defeat, but a surrender to what sparks joy, following up the 2012 bump-and-grind origin story with one focused on indulgence instead of the first film’s economic anxiety preoccupations. By focusing on what people tuned in for all along, everything is indeed bigger in XXL.
Channing Tatum once again stars as Mike who’s been out of the game for three years trying to get his own custom furniture business off the ground. It’s a different type of grind and it’s wearing him out. Spreadsheets, employees and precarious contracts come to feel like a melatonin in comparison to the molly of stripping, so when he gets a proposal from the boys, it’s tempting: They’re headed to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach for one last legacy-cementing performance. How about it? One last ride?
The answer is obvious and what follows is a road trip movie of male bonding and commiserating broken up by steamy dance routines that are far and away the film’s highlights. Alongside Mike, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Ken (Matt Bomer) are back for another dance, and newcomer Jada Pinkett Smith injects some lioness energy to proceedings as Rome, a proprietor of a male strip club type that resembles a sorority house with live-in entertainment. Donald Glover also pops up, but keeps his clothes on.
You can see there’s quite the ensemble for Magic Mike XXL to service, and it does so by not getting in too deep with any of them and instead focusing on the group. A minor romantic subplot between Mike and a woman played by Amber Heard is given three whole scenes, to give you an idea of how little XXL cares about its B-plot. Big Dick Richie’s struggles with the drawbacks of his great endowment gets two scenes (and they’re both great!)
XXL is more about the vibes than any actual story, a no-stakes caper where nothing threatens to get too real or realistic. Plot is not hot, and pleasure is the point. Let the good times roll and let bros be dudes.
It’s almost derailed by director Jacobs and, surprisingly, Steven Soderbergh behind the camera, working under pseudonym Peter Andrews. I’ve never seen performances so underserved by uninspired camerawork, and in one nighttime scene on a beach, both Tatum’s and Heard’s faces are covered in shadow during their conversation. Y’all don’t want to show us your actors performing? One wonders what could’ve been with a director like Damien Chazelle who showed an appreciation for musicals and how to shoot it with La La Land.
“Fred Astaire represents the aristocracy when he dances, and I represent the proletariat,” Gene Kelly once said, and in her excellent piece on what dancing can teach us, Zadie Smith touches on why Kelly may have been right to think so. His physicality, his dress, use of the public space, and in comparison to Astaire’s statesman-like conduct with Ginger Rogers, Kelly’s exudence of sex is the reason. Watching Tatum do the same in Magic Mike XXL, it’s hard to not think of him as this century’s Gene Kelly.
The scene that reawakens Magic Mike happens in his workshop, which becomes an impromptu stage. Tatum incorporates his tools and materials for the slow tease, a metal bar replacing his manhood, a table replacing a bed, before moving onto greater acrobatics by using a load-bearing beam as a pole. It’s not graceful and lithe, but powerful and primal. Tatum’s no ballroom dancer, and his physique is the kind men want and women want on them. As Mike, it becomes subversive in how he uses it in subservience to women, with choreography that’s physically dominant, but submissive in sentiment as moves orient themselves around women’s pleasure.
What might be Magic Mike’s legacy, as a character and as a series of films, is how the movies subvert toxic masculinity ideals, even when the dudes’ clothes are on. The men, who make a living off their bodies, mostly discuss matters of the heart and soul for the majority of the film, and support each other in their different pursuits both emotional and professional. Low body fat, high EQ. It has a strange spiritual little brother in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a film about finding yourself (as much as a group of hard-partying college baseball players can).
XXL is a straightforward self-effacing joyride that offers no rough edges, except for its direction and camerawork, and is easy to enjoy. A star-vehicle for Tatum, who continues to excel as a character that will likely define him and becomes his legacy, but if that’s his fate, Tatum should be thankful, because Mike is indeed magic.