Magic Mike XXL is an entirely different experience than Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 original. While both are sun-soaked and laden with oiled, chiseled men, their tones are polar opposite. Director Gregory Jacobs (whose work as an assistant director on many Soderbergh films lends him perfectly to the franchise) makes the newest film an absolute blast and celebration of sexuality, using stripping as a form of self expression and pride. The previous film was a dangerous tale of power and addiction, having Channing Tatum’s titular character devolving into a world plagued by morally corrupt individuals. I prefer Soderbergh’s vision, but there’s no denying the charisma on display in Magic Mike XXL‘s infectiously funny script. It’s a rare mainstream film that touts sexuality as something to be enjoyed, not feared or judged. Oddly enough, Tatum and his fellow stripping actors deliver the goods that many male-attracted audiences sought after in the first film, even if the story has been stripped of much of its bite. Magic Mike XXL is still a consistently if surprisingly funny and zippy film.
The story focuses on Mike’s (Channing Tatum) adventures after three years away from stripping. He owns his own construction/renovation company in Florida with only one other worker; he seems to enjoy the work since he’s good at it, but it’s mundane and doesn’t connect him with many people he really enjoys. A return to being a “male entertainer” seems in store. He gets a message on his phone that informs him of one of his stripper friend’s death, only to realize he’s been tricked by Tarzan (Kevin Nash) to join his stripper friends on a new adventure. This go-around, instead of being brought into the dark world of stripping, Mike goes after the nostalgia of an unpredictable time and heads with the men to a stripper convention on the East Coast. Matthew McConaughey’s lead character from the first film has left, leaving the dynamics to the remaining members: bad-boy Richie (Joe Manganiello), Barbie companion Ken (Matt Bomer), and ambitious Tito (Adam Rodriguez). Along for the journey is driver Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), rambunctious Zoe (Amber Heard), and Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who can only be described as a fierce pimp of male strippers. Suffice to say, you can’t really get more of a diverse group than this.
Magic Mike XXL basically acts as a road trip comedy that remains all about characters and their ridiculously ripped physiques. To concern yourself with exposition in a film like this is to wonder where exactly these men store all of their baby oil throughout their journey; it’s something with which you shouldn’t concern yourself. The actors all-around prove more than game for the fittingly funny story, mostly involving frat-boy shenanigans and people ogling over strippers who cannot seem to take anything seriously outside of their craft. Speaking of which, the stripping scenes in the film are admittedly inventive and kinetic. Coming from a straight male, that’s high praise; imagine how audiences that enjoy male strippers will react. Tatum is a good actor and proves that here, making his Mike a man clearly driven by a desire to find love and rediscover his passions. The supporting roles are well-written too, with Pinkett Smith absolutely owning her role, exuding sexuality and power like no other. And that’s the film’s defining point: it owns sexuality and makes it universally appealing and celebrated. That’s such a rarity and done without shame that it makes Magic Mike XXL an impressive sequel, even if it’s slightly less ambitious than its predecessor.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)