Magic Mike XXL shares most of the same characters as the original, but the similarities end there. Gone are the depictions of the dark side of working in the adult industry, the depressing, self-destructive behaviors, and even the clichéd club scenes. What’s left is sheer entertainment, a movie whose primary goal is to bring enjoyment to heterosexual women. I expected to appreciate the eye candy but find the movie cheesy overall, but instead I was blown away by the fact that it was a funny and genuinely happy film that managed to subvert tired formulas and leave me with a smile on my face. Magic Mike XXL is far superior to its predecessor, and you do not need to have seen the previous iteration to appreciate it fully.
Channing Tatum reprises his starring role as Mike Lane. He’s been out of the industry for 3 years and is running his own furniture business, just as he dreamed. But his girlfriend left him, unwilling to commit, and he feels that something is missing from his life. His old buddies from the strip club (minus Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer) show up and invite him to do one last road trip to the male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. What follows is an enjoyable romp where the men bond with each other while plotting ways to bring happiness to women and put on a great show. They throw out the corny costumes and routines and strive to be more authentic and creative in their performances.
Tatum is an exceptional dancer, and watching him perform is amazing even from a strictly nonsexual perspective. The way he can contort his body is breathtaking. And of course, how can you not appreciate the physiques of Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez? But to say that the appeal of Magic Mike XXL is watching attractive men take their clothes off is an oversimplification. Where this movie truly shines is in the compelling sex-positive fantasy it creates that is as much about joy and laughter as it is about desire.
The whole time I was watching Magic Mike XXL, I was consciously aware that it took place in some kind of parallel universe, a fantasy bubble where men spend time discussing how to make women happy, where women are powerful and worshipped (Mike even says “my god is a woman”), and where sex is a celebration of life, freed of its cultural baggage. Women of all shapes and sizes, of all ages and colors, are desired and attended to. In the context of a real world where women’s bodies are constantly policed, where women who don’t fit a narrow beauty ideal are made to feel inadequate and undesirable, this is potent stuff. At one point, the men call themselves “healers,” glad to comfort women who have been through a bad breakup or whose partners aren’t treating them well. There is nothing dirty or seedy about it.
Women are accustomed to seeing all manner of visual entertainment from the male gaze, where women are the sex class, where the camera lingers on women’s bodies. It is the default. We are used to it. It is so different and refreshing to see a movie made from the female gaze, an even more impressive accomplishment for a male director and writer. Some critics have said that it’s hypocritical to endorse something that objectifies men while critiquing the objectification of women. And while I don’t think the goal of feminism should be to also treat men like sexual objects or a mere collection of body parts, I do think that the context is different when you’re talking about men vs. women. When you live in a society where women have endured thousands of years of oppression, where women are reduced to their sexuality while being condemned for it, but where men get to be fully realized human beings, a movie about men taking their clothes off is different from a movie about women taking their clothes off. Men don’t suddenly shed all of their privilege with their clothes, and the men in this movie are not dehumanized at all. They are well-developed, sympathetic characters; better developed than the female supporting cast, honestly.
After reading all this, you may get the impression that Magic Mike XXL is a didactic movie about gender politics, which is completely untrue. It does not take itself too seriously. It’s ridiculous, and all the actors are in on the joke. There are many laugh out loud amazing moments, such as when Rich (Manganiello) attempts to seduce a bored convenience store clerk with an impromptu dance. It just manages to be hilarious while existing in a woman-friendly, sex-positive universe. Amazing, huh?
I honestly have no idea if people who aren’t attracted to men will enjoy this movie to its fullest. But hetero ladies, go with your friends. Preferably to a theater that serves alcohol. You won’t regret it. I say this very rarely, since I see so few movies these days, but I’d totally see this in the theater a second time. Especially if there’s margaritas involved.