Magic Mike XXL might be a perfect sequel; keeping what worked best, ramping up what people want most, and reworking a few little things to make it all just right.
Magic Mike was anticipated by ladies all over the world, seemingly with Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and company ready to take their clothes off and gyrate all over the screen. That’s what the trailers sold, but what we got was a sex comedy, guy’s movie about growing up and out of your twenties, finding the right girl, all lightly backed by the financial struggles of our nation at the time. I think, if the ladies were being honest, they were a little disappointed by what they got in the first entry. That doesn’t mean Magic Mike wasn’t a good movie, it was a great one, but it delivered something all of the audiences weren’t really expecting. Guy’s stayed away because of their insecurities and the women walked away wishing they saw a little more D&A (Dancing & Abs).
Magic Mike XXL changes all of that. The ladies will in no way walk away disappointed (counted five solid applause breaks in my showing) and the people who loved the character stuff of the first film will still find plenty to laugh at and enjoy. The film even does some smart course corrections on both the character and thematic fronts. One change to the formula that works for the best is that they exorcise the douchey underbelly of the first film. Matthew McConaughey gives a career best performance (It’s true!) in Magic Mike, but Dallas was kind of a douche bag, as was The Kid. The whole crew in general kind of had a douchey bro vibe to them and the third act of Magic Mike hinges on all of this as it is a big reason Mike walks. That attitude is mostly gone here, the crew is now a pack of interesting, thoughtful and goofy individuals, with Bomer’s Ken getting a complete 180 of a rewrite. The crew is now a lovable and gorgeous crew of ‘male entertainers’ that the ladies can love and drool over without an ounce of bad boy guilt. I love all of the little team moments the crew get here, you can tell these guys are having a blast hanging out together.
The themes of the film have also shifted away from the men and become all about pleasing the women. The film is devoid of delayed male coming of age plot and instead sends the guys on a road trip to a stripper convention with a bunch of female driven stops along the way. All the stops are journeys into the viewerships that are going to fill the theaters this weekend; a drag show, a subscription based pleasure mansion full of younger ladies, a drunk and sexually repressed group of divorcees’ wine party, these are the people who are going to come out for Magic Mike XXL; and they won’t be disappointed. The film also takes the time to encourage women to open up sexually, be in charge of their pleasure, all while sending the message to the dudes in the audience to give their ladies what they want. The stories behind the guys’ new dances even encourage everyone to be individuals and be inspired by what they love. Positive messaging all around!
The cast sheds its weakest links, Alex Pettyfer and Cody Horn, and adds a great Jada Pinkett Smith, the fantastic moves of tWitch, and the freestyle rappings of Donald Glover/Childish Gambino. Hell, Michael Strahan even pops in for a scene and kills it. All of the returning guys also make the most of their extended screentime. Joe Manganiello makes the biggest leap and gets the two best dance scenes, Matt Bomer is practically playing a different character but has a lot of fun with the part and Kevin Nash even delivers a few great beats of poignancy. Adam Rodriguez even transitions from a racial diversity statistic to the fun and goofy soul of the crew. And Tatum, man, you are going to get peak Tatum. The dude takes his dancing up a notch, has never been more charming and even gets to show off his excellent drug acting again; oh, and he’s a cookie man. Amber Heard’s romantic sub-plot with Mike is the only weak spot of the film for me, but she is good and sells the final scene which is all she really needed to do in the end.
I can’t end this review without praising the technical elements of the film, which are impeccable. Steven Soderbergh doesn’t direct, but his fingerprints are everywhere and in every shot as he was still the acting DP. The film is stunning to look at, with the dance sequences in particular making everything in the first film seeming third-rate by comparison. A couple of the long takes in the finale are just incredible, this is easily one of the finest crafted films of the year. The music selection is also top-notch, with two music cues associated with Richie that will likely not be topped this year. If there was any complete to be had, they could have trimmed up a scene or two here and there, but that is about it.
If you couldn’t tell, I think Magic Mike XXL is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It stands toe to toe with the original film and might be even better. The cast is great, Soderbergh’s work is beautiful and Tatum and company really know how to put on a show.