Magic Mike XXL Review
Upon release, I called the original Magic Mike “a film of depth and certainty” and still hold it in high regard to this day, an opinion I’m frequently prodded for having. The fact of the matter was Magic Mike was a film that was enjoyable as a piece of fluff that showed off the talent and athleticism of its leading male performers and also found a great deal of success as a drama about gritty business and toxic relationships in a fairly seamy field.
Magic Mike XXL is in the perfect position as a sequel to degrade its predecessor by pulling a “gotcha” at the audience, discarding all of its thoughtfulness in exchange for overdoing everything it did with such nuance in the first film. It could’ve been an endurance test of the highest degree, soaking everything in testosterone and surface-level dance numbers that would, in turn, add nothing to these characters and their personalities.
Thankfully, writer Reid Carolin and director Gregory Jacobs take over the roles from the master Steven Soderbergh to deliver a film that does everything its predecessor does in a manner that relatively mirrors it but not to a fault. A sequel like this operates on a field of landmines, with the possibility of veering into all glitz and tiresome dance numbers at every turn, but Carolin and Jacobs remind us why the original film captivated us so much by giving us a film about human pleasure and the desire to arouse and excite.
We refocus on our titular character (reprised by Channing Tatum), who is now the CEO of his own company and is making a living away from dancing. When he is contacted by Tarzan (Kevin Nash), who lies and says that their old friend and coworker Dallas (Matthew McConaughey in the original film) has died, Mike rushes to find that Dallas went to perform overseas and the guys lied to him simply so they could see him again.
Upon listening his old friends and dancers such as Ken (Matt Bomer), “Big Dick Richie” (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and their new friend Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias in a role that, despite the unlikely, rather fits him) tell stories, Mike finds the spark for dancing rekindled. He decides to drop everything and head down to Myrtle Beach with his buddies for one last dance to prove multiple different things. For one, Mike wants to prove that he still has what it takes to be a talented dancer but the other is something greater, something all the guys quietly want to prove.
Mike and the gang want to prove that they still have what it takes to make a woman happy, joyful, and filled with the kind of excitement that she desires when venturing out to a strip club with her female friends on a Friday or Saturday night. Consider the scene when the boys are high off Ecstasy and dare Richie to waltz into a gas station and make the unhappy older woman behind the counter smile with a dance routine to the Backstreet Boys. The scene is uproariously funny and one of the most positive scenes I have yet to see this year, but it also works to prove to these men that they can still give a woman the fun she wanted.
More of this insecurity sets in during a large bachelorette party that has Andre (Donald Glover), an R&B/rap singer and professional dancer, at the helm. Andre is a younger, ostensibly more energetic presence than the former “Kings of Tampa” and his ability to dance flawlessly and make up an impromptu song for the women he serenades puts him clearly at the top of his game. Mike and his friends, who watch Andre put on his show, attempt to change up their routine before they hit Myrtle Beach, to show the town that they can still do what those half their age can and do it better.
Soderbergh’s directorial flare kicked in with Magic Mike during the spacious dance scenes, which showed the entire stage as a playground for Soderbergh’s tricks, with lighting, decorations, and choreography being placed at the forefront during as well. While Jacobs has less of an opportunity to showcase the large-scale stage dances, he makes up for it in the multitude of different ways he finds to shoot bodies bouncing off of one another. Magic Mike XXL has so many scenes including people of both sexes being lifted up, landing face first in crotches, sliding off of one another, and working off different bodies that it almost becomes an action film. Jacobs captures these scenes with intense clarity and focus, living up to the Soderbergh-style of direction I anticipated watching this film.
Then there’s the humor throughout the picture, some of which straight-forward, some of which completely absurdist (consider when Mike talks about his God). Magic Mike XXL moves with the fluidity of water-based lubricant and shines like a greased up abdomen in terms of showcasing the talent on display, be it with their quick-witted timing or their acting talents. I hold by my opinion that Channing Tatum is another one of the finest male actors in the game, and at a stunning thirty-five years old, he has an uncanny physique and an ability to move in addition of conveying a character erected from the ground up on charm.
Ultimately, however, the sincerity behind the emotion in Magic Mike XXL carries it places. Long scenes that take place in one setting, whether they are in a gas station or a luxurious home sipping rare and expensive wine with older (and younger) women, Carolin understands that this particular film can lack a “point A/point B” plot and still be a worthwhile experience. The plotlessness of Magic Mike XXL allows for conversations and real human connection to take place in a way that’s remarkably beautiful, and I’ll be damned if this doesn’t end up being one of my favorite films of the year in terms of showcasing the human spirit in its most tender forms.
NOTE: Magic Mike XXL is also one of the few films that could end with the song “All I Do is Win” by DJ Khaled and have it be totally fitting and not have it be pompous or flashy at all. This entire franchise has been a cinematic mystery waiting to be defined.