Magic Mike XXL is justly getting praised as both a showcase for its cast’s easy, natural charisma and for the degree to which it pushes the envelope of male objectification. The sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 Magic Mike goes farther than the original did in depicting, and slavering over, its male subjects’ physical forms; it’s more creative, too, in the dance routines the characters execute. This is a welcome addition to a multiplex that has, generally, been far more apt to objectify women than men. But Magic Mike XXL adding more stripping, more jokes, and more focus on the good times the cast shares together—all that necessarily squeezes something else out. The melancholy tone of 2012’s Magic Mike was something special in the summer-movie season, and something we’ve yet to see at the multiplex this year.
The first Magic Mike presented stripping as a complicated endeavor; while the entertainers were hardly ashamed to show off onstage, it was also clearly a waystation to whatever they hoped might happen next in their lives. Channing Tatum’s Mike desperately wants to start a custom-furniture-design business, but is constrained by his economic circumstances. His fellow dancers are all subject to the whims of a promoter (Matthew McConaughey) who’s alternately generous and controlling. Magic Mike is a story of strippers trying to break free from their existence (and, at film’s end, Mike does, quitting the game). Magic Mike XXL, at whose start Mike returns to stripping, is the story of strippers having fun as they try to be the very best strippers they can!
There are obstacles in the guys’ path in Magic Mike XXL, but they’re largely self-created, or loopily surreal. The men want to put on the absolute best show they can at a stripping convention. That’s a worthy goal, and one that lends itself to a bravura final sequence of various routines executed with aplomb. But ultimately, there’s little at stake. We know they’re great at what they do, even when they aren’t. Several of the routines the group executes at the convention are charming but not really stripping, relying on the attendees’ familiarity with the personalities of the men onstage in a way that defies logic.
Magic Mike XXL is great fun, and it does things most other movies wouldn’t do. In the process, it sacrifices the moody, vaguely depressing realism of the first installment. It makes sense: That tone wouldn’t have made much sense for a sequel in the first place (if they were all still in the same emotional and economic place, why check in with the crew again?), and it would have kept the film from indulging its rapacious appetite for more. Magic Mike XXL has less on its mind than its precursor, but it only confirms what, earlier in the summer, Jurassic World showed us: To keep us interested, franchises must constantly up the ante—even if that means altering an entity’s DNA.
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