The Peak of Cinema: A Review of Gregory Jacobs’s ‘Magic Mike XXL’

Magic Mike XXL

That Tweet, by film critic Sam Adams, is the best review Magic Mike XXL will ever get. I don’t know if there’s a valid reason why I should defy Adams’s flawless logic and write a “traditional” review of this movie, except for the fact that I have so much to say about it.

It hasn’t been long since I rewatched and wrote about the original Magic Mike for this blog. Soderbergh’s original became a surprising (and incredibly profitable) hit back in the summer of 2012, but it was also a very depressing movie. People showed up for a romantic comedy disguised as a stripper extravaganza, but they got a relatively bleak examination of the failures of capitalism and the limitations of the American dream. There was lots to enjoy in Magic Mike –particularly the best performance in Matthew McConaghey’s career- but its more profound themes, while ambitiously mixed into a stripper comedy, felt rather familiar. Something kept me from loving that movie, and I didn’t know quite what it was until I watched Magic Mike XXL. 

The sequel picks up with Mike (Channing Tatum) a couple years after he quit the game to dedicate his full-time to his custom furniture business. Business isn’t booming, but it isn’t doing terrible either. Still, there is something missing in Mike’s life. Brooke, his girlfriend from his previous movie, has left him, and she has created a whole that can only be filled with getting back on stage and taking off his clothes while thrusting on the floor. Yes, dancing for a group of screaming ladies is part of Mike’s being. Thankfully for him, his ex-colleagues are going off on one last ride before they have to hang up the g-strings for good, and Mike is invited to tag along.

The boys get back together, and they’re off to a “stripper convention” in Myrtle Beach. That’s it. There is very little plot to speak of in Magic Mike XXL, but even if the movie is light on plot, it is loaded with a bunch of flawless set-pieces, and some of the most endearing and exciting images of the year. And I’m not just talking about the magic that is watching Channing Tatum masterfully dance his way through Ginuwine’s “Pony”. I’m talking about a movie that, unlike its predecessor, decides to look at strippers (or “male entertainers”, as they prefer to be called) from a woman’s perspective.

Magic Mike XXL is a punch in the face of all those dudebro boyfriends who will scoff at their girlfriends for wanting to see this movie. It is also a kick in the balls of the phrase “bros before hoes” and toxically misogynistic movies like this summer’s Entourage. While Vinnie Chase and his pals live to lightly mock and then validate each other’s status as a men worthy of money and “pussy”, the guys in Magic Mike do everything they do in the name of women. When Mike explains how he comes up with his routine, he says he only imagines what he’d like to do to a girl he met a club. And what he wants to do is all for her pleasure.

There is little dramatic conflict in Magic Mike XXL, instead, the movie is a celebration of women’s pleasure. While the first Magic Mike was focused on what being a stripper meant for Mike and the other dancers, this sequel focuses on what these men can do for a woman. Practically all of the movie’s set-pieces are built around these guys making a woman feel better. A particularly great one, for example, features Ritchie (Joe Manganiello) dancing around a convenient store trying to get the cashier to crack a smile.

If hip-hop is now the most popular music genre in America, then breakdancing is the equivalent to the tap-routines of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Magic Mike XXL is this generation’s Singin’ in the Rain, and Channing Tatum is its Gene Kelly. We think of those classic musical performers as gentlemen, a type of man that has become extinct. Well, this movie proves that chivalry isn’t dead, it has only changed with the times. Being sexy, dancing for a woman, recognizing her as a “Queen”, that’s what makes the modern gentleman. They might not be high-class, or have much money, but that doesn’t make Magic Mike less of a gentleman.

So go ahead and dismiss Magic Mike XXL as a dumb fantasy, but do it at your own peril. This year has already proven to be a particularly good year for women on film. Indeed, the 2015 release Magic Mike XXL has the most in common is George Miller’s magnificent Mad Max Fury RoadBoth are love letters to the value of women and womanhood in a world controlled by men, and they’re both armed with set-pieces that reflect the unlimited possibilities of cinema. Watching Tatum dance can be as riveting as Miller’s endless chases through the Namibian desert. This is action. This is cinema.

For this sequel, Soderbergh pass the directing reign off to his long-time assistant director Gregory Jacobs, but he didn’t leave the project entirely. He is still an executive producer, and still worked as cinematographer and editor, helping visualize Jacobs’s amazing sexual fantasy. This is a movie about pleasures, so it helps that the measured and detached pace chosen by the directors helps them linger on the dance sequences. The third act of the movie is basically a 20 minute stripping routine. And it is amazing.

We might be down a McConaughey, but we get Jada Pinkett Smith as his replacement. Not only is she flawless, but she her power and presence as a performer is essential to effectively deliver the movie’s message about female satisfaction. Also, without McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer (who also didn’t make it to the sequel), everyone else in the cast gets their chance to shine. Matt Bomer, for example, keeps rubbing the fact that he is a perfect human specimen in our faces by revealing that he is a fantastic singer. Joe Manganiello gets some of the best lines, and the aforementioned convenient store routine. And then there’s Tatum. A star among equals and a true movie star.

Grade: 9 out of 10

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