Magic Mike XXL may not be an insightful continuation of its predecessor, but it delivers an experience that many wanted the first time around.
In Magic Mike XXL, we pick up with 'Magic' Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) three years after he left his stripper life behind and went to start his own custom furniture making business. A chance to take a break from the daily work grind presents itself when Mike is contacted by the remaining Kings of Tampa, who have decided to end their stripping careers on a high note after having been abandoned by their boss, Dallas, and rising young star 'The Kid', for greener pastures.
Mike learns the Kings of Tampa are headed to Myrtle Beach, where they plan to deliver one final big performance at the city's annual stripper convention. While hesitant at first, Mike ultimately agrees to join his former co-workers - including Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), who's serving as emcee (and driver) on their pilgrimage, providing Mike a chance to not just put any lingering bad blood between him and the other Kings behind them, but also shake off lingering issues from his past and move on to a brighter tomorrow.
Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike was both a critical and commercial success, but the film's approach - taking an unvarnished look at the male stripper world in order to examine life in the post-2007 financial crisis U.S. - was a surprise to those who had expected a straight-forward beefcake display. Magic Mike XXL, as helmed by Soderbgh's longtime first assistant director Gregory Jacobs, is more of an epilogue than a sequel to Soderbergh's film - one lighter in tone and more lively in presentation. As such, Magic Mike XXL may not be an insightful continuation of its predecessor, but it delivers an experience that many wanted the first time around.
Magic Mike XXL, unlike such recent sequels as Pitch Perfect 2 and Ted 2, is a very different movie than the one before it. The Magic Mike sequel is a road trip comedy on the surface, but resembles a musical in the way its transitions between stripping/dancing sequences and dialogue-driven moments dedicated to character development. This allows the movie to successfully deliver the charming bro-comedy of its predecessor, while at the same time step up its man flesh-show game via multiple well-staged routines boasting impressive dance choreography that's generally captured in long shot (so as to not obstruct the performances on display).
The financial realities of the first Magic Mike are touched upon briefly in the sequel, but quickly brushed aside for a story that actually explores the art of male stripping (or 'male entertainment', as the film's characters often call it) - not just in terms of how it's a personal reflection of the strippers themselves, but why it matters to the clientele. Magic Mike XXL's stripping sequences end up serving dual purposes for that reason; those performance numbers provide a means for Jacobs to explore the movie's themes cinematically, but also in a way that delivers visceral pleasures for its audience. As such, what the film lacks in profoundness, it makes up for by being refreshingly positive in its outlook towards sex, women, and men (of varying ages alike).
Reid Carolin's Magic Mike XXL script has a pretty loose three-act narrative structure, but like most road trip adventures it's the journey that counts, and ultimately Carolin's screenplay pays off its various plot threads. Tatum as Mike Lane doesn't have as dramatically-heavy an arc here as he did in the original Magic Mike (none of the returning characters do, really), but the actor delivers yet another charismatic and multi-faceted performance, all the same. The other returning Kings of Tampa (Joe Manganiello as (Big D**k) Richie, Matt Bomer as Ken, Adam Rodriguez as Tito, and Kevin Nash as Tarzan) are provided with far more development here than in the first Magic Mike, allowing the cast - in particular Bomer and Manganiello - to shine, while also exploring the individual Kings' various neurosis and personality quirks in a funny and entertaining manner.
Behind the camera, Jacobs might have called the shots on Magic Mike XXL, but Soderbergh remained onboard as the film's cinematographer and editor, so his artistic thumbprint is still evident in the final product. The combination of Jacobs and Soderbergh results in a film with excellent craftsmanship - one that uses a variety of different visual storytelling techniques (montages, Impressionist lighting, stylish camera shot compositions) in order to bring its setting to life in a captivating manner - one that varies from the simple (and messy) nature of everyday life to the exotic nighttime atmosphere of the stripper world. Soderbergh and Jacobs also keep the movie rolling along at a tight pace; Magic Mike XXL might not be about a whole lot, but it knows that and instead serves up an easy, breezy, viewing experience.
Similarly, the Magic Mike XXL supporting cast - like its stars - recognize what the film's tone is meant to be, and perform accordingly - whether it's Jada Pinkett Smith (Gotham) delivering another larger than life personality in the strip club owner Rome, or people like actor/singer/songwriter Donald Glover (Community) and the actor/dancer Stephen 'tWitch' Boss (So You Think You Can Dance) riffing on their real-life celebrity personas in supporting roles. People such as Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) and Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day, Cedar Cove) also deliver colorful performances during their (too?) brief appearances in the film. The same goes for Iglesias, whose screen time is fairly limited.
Amber Heard (Drive Angry, Machete Kills), by comparison, serves a narrative purpose similar to Cody Horn's in the first Magic Mike; her character, Zoe, isn't so interesting compared to those around her, but thanks to Heard's fine performance and the way Zoe ultimately fits in the larger story, she's not a drag on the proceedings, either. Admittedly, there are no supporting characters in Magic Mike XXL that come close to matching the exuberance of Mathew McConaughey's Dallas in the first movie, but the sequel wisely avoids trying to sell any of its supporting players as being a fitting replacement for him.
Magic Mike XXL may fall into the 'Unnecessary Sequel' category, but thank to the efforts of its cast and the people working behind the camera, it also feels like more than just 'product'. The sequel plays more to the expectations of the series' hardcore fans, but does so with enough self-awareness, intelligence, and heart that it works as more than just a cash-grab.
Naturally, if the first Magic Mike was not of interest to you, then there's little reason to think the sequel is going to be your cup of tea, either. On the other hand, those who admired the first Magic Mike for its creative ambitions (more than a filmgoing experience) might even find Magic Mike XXL to be an improvement - not to mention, the perfect bit of pleasant summer movie fun.
Magic Mike XXL is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 115 minutes long and is Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.