VOD film review: Magic Mike XXL
James R | On 05, Dec 2015
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello
Magic Mike XXL continued the first film’s brand of in-your-face marketing with a hashtag that promised no end of fun. Compared to the original’s poster crying “HELLO GIRLS”, though, there’s a shift that’s taken place in its understanding of gender and sexuality.
The marketing has nothing to do with the makers of the film, of course, but a similar change has happened there too: Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike was a heartfelt character study of men who happened to be strippers. Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand, is a film about male stripping.
On the surface, that seems to be it; a shallow sequel cashing in on that commercial prospect. But while there’s a lot of Channing all over this Tatum, there’s also a new appreciation of what that entails. Where previously, Channing’s Mike was an unhappy dancer trying to give meaning to his life by making furniture, here, he’s an unhappy furniture maker using his dancing to find meaning. How? By reuniting with the gang and going on a road trip.
It’s a formula as rock hard as the abs on display, with the cast all returning, except for Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer – whose characters have fled to pursue their own money-making enterprise. That focus on profit offers a telling contrast to our boys, who are less concerned with success and more with being happy; their journey to a stripping convention is a sweet last hurrah more than a career move.
They pass inevitable cliches along the way, from Richie (Joe Manganiello) wondering whether he’s still got it and Matt Bomer’s failed actor, Ken, embracing a rare chance to sing to a new romantic interest for Mike, in the form of Amber Heard’s photogrpher, Zoe. An entire subplot involving Jada Pinkett Smith as Rome, a former flame of Tatum’s lead, meanwhile, is less a diversion and more a narrative dead end.
But their travels find the gang rediscovering the joy of their gigs – a shared passion ignited by Donald Glover’s musician, Andre, and reinforced by the easy chemistry between them all, from Kevin Nash’s gruff, weary Tarzan to Adam Rodriguez’s artisan fro-yo-loving Tito.
Returning writer Reid Carolin understands each rounded character, while Gregory Jacobs’ (first assistant director and producer on Magic Mike) camera captures the physicality and heart of their routines. One bravura early sequence sees Mike turn a trip to a garage into an improvised routine, a show that doesn’t require an audience for him to enjoy it. Later, Richie uses a vending machine in a petrol station shop in an attempt to make the cashier smile.
They’re set-pieces that would never have appeared in the 2012 film and offer a teasing flash of this sequel’s subtle progression; by the time the feel-good finale arrives (with a focus on each character’s interests rather than their agility), Magic Mike XXL emerges as a celebration of finding one’s vocation as a means of both bringing inner joy to other people and to yourself. Magic Mike XXL has a simpler story, without the original’s soul-searching and drama, but that doesn’t make its package less substantial: in this story, stripping isn’t just what they do, but a part of who they are. And there’s no reason for them to feel conflicted about it.