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Review: Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Directed by: Gregory Jacobs

Premise: A sequel to the 2012 film. Former stripper Mike (Channing Tatum) reunites with his coworkers and they travel to a convention for male entertainers.

What Works: What ought to be obvious about the Magic Mike films, and yet isn’t a part of the way they are discussed, is that these movies are musicals. What Channing Tatum and company are doing in these movies isn’t that different from what Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly did in pictures like An American in Paris and Shall We Dance; the story is a framework to justify dance numbers. As that Magic Mike XXL succeeds. The film comes as part of a larger trend of performance-based movies like the Step Up series and Pitch Perfect and as an exercise in musical filmmaking Magic Mike XXL is much better than its competition. Filmmaker and director of the original Magic Mike Steven Soderbergh served as cinematographer and editor on the sequel (even though he is credited here by the pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard) and the combination of dance choreography and filmmaking is extremely impressive. The musical numbers of Magic Mike XXL have a visceral sexual energy. That is in its own way subversive because mainstream Hollywood films have run away from sexuality and when they do portray sex it usually takes the form of a messy joke, a punishable sin, or an accessory of male entitlement. The dance sequences of Magic Mike XXL are intended to entice the libidos of the viewers, especially women, and the target audience is going to like what they see. In some ways, Magic Mike XXL is the movie that viewers thought they were going to get three years ago. The original Magic Mike pulled a bait and switch, offering up the allure of male bodies and then delivered a standard show business cautionary tale in which success led to corruption. The sequel is much more playful, almost a repentance for tricking viewers the first time around, and the filmmakers go out of their way to give the audience what they want. It also affirms female sexuality and the picture does that most obviously through the emcee played by Jada Pinkett Smith. She is as watchable and charismatic as Matthew McConaughey in the first film and her scenes with Channing Tatum are consistently the best moments in the sequel.

What Doesn’t: A number of critics and columnists have claimed Magic Mike XXL as a feminist movie. This has been greatly overstated. The movie has some feminist elements and it caters to female sexuality but Magic Mike XXL is ultimately a heterosexual male fantasy of being the object of female desire as these men use their dance skills to drive women into erotic hysteria. The movie is admirably egalitarian and the characters of Magic Mike XXL are certainly more agreeable than the men of Entourage but no one should confuse this as some grand feminist statement. But what is more problematic for Magic Mike XXL is how shallow it is. The plot of the first film was thin but it did have a discernable story in which Channing Tatum’s character recognized the dead end nature of his life and sought a way out, establishing a meaningful relationship along the way. The second film reverses all of that, plunging Mike back into the life of male stripping and undoing every epiphany he had in the previous movie. Indulging the emptiness that the first Magic Mike subversively exposed, the sequel is all surface and lacks even the semblance of a coherent story. The troupe are on their way to a male entertainment convention but why they are going and what they are competing for (if anything) is never articulated. The road trip is a series of disconnected events and when the film finally arrives at its climactic performance there is nothing at stake. In the end nothing is won, lost, or affirmed.

Bottom Line: The moviemakers of Magic Mike XXL have created exactly what they set out to do and they’ve done it very effectively. But the Magic Mike sequel constitutes a sort of mainstream pornography in the same way as Nicki Minaj music videos, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, and the Miss USA pageant. It’s about looking and lusting but nothing beyond that.

Episode: #551 (July 19, 2015)