The first Magic Mike became a weird moment for me where now I had to explain to people repeatedly that it’s really not just about sexy men taking off their shirts and thrusting at women. In fact, it was downright depressing at times and often confronted strippers as people bound to their profession. They either strip, or they become aimless in life. Magic Mike XXL is in many ways a response to the first film’s ideologies, and an exploration into what it means to be a male entertainer. Forget the moments of sadness and existential crises – this is a movie that celebrates selflessness and passion.
All of which led me to forget the reasons I enjoyed the first film. Mike (Channing Tatum) was the central character of the first film, with everyone else feeling like a supporting cast. Magic Mike XXL becomes an ensemble of characters who appeared in the first film, but if you asked me to have been able to remember any of them, I would have probably danced around the question. These five men all come together and are defined by the fact that they all have something they aspire to and would love to be doing outside of stripping. Every character gets its moment of bonding with Mike, who acts as the glue of the group, despite his absence from their entourage for years. It’s a neat way to handle making these characters more central to the film.
Mike is not the only unifying factor between all these men though. They have passion for something more than stripping, but they also are all the kind of selfless person who I picture every woman who watches romantic comedies to idolize. Someone who would bend over backwards for a woman, and would do anything to make her happy. Apparently that is the mantra of every male stripper, though only in a post-Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) world. Him and Alex Pettyfer’s character from the first film were focused on money, and are absent in this second outing.
Does this mean the film has something to say about capitalism or what it means to be happy? No, not really. The film winds up removing all of the realistic elements of Magic Mike and turning it into a female fantasy factory. Which isn’t a bad thing because admittedly I came into this movie expecting something grandiose and exciting, which is exactly what I got. Well, most of the time. Magic Mike XXL will spend lengthy periods of time in one location, even if nothing exciting is really happening. A scene on a beach goes on for far too long and is in no way funny or interesting. A scene in a male stripper brothel-or-something is exceptionally long and just tells the audience how much women love being dry-humped.
I find that scene in particular to summarize what is both great and terrible about Magic Mike XXL. It will spend a long time on scenes, hoping that spectacle is enough to carry ten or more minutes of a movie (in some instances, it is). The camera will fixate on reactions to what is happening in the scene from bystanders of the action, essentially making things seem exciting when they might not be (they often are). It portrays every single woman as someone who desperately needs a hunky man to pick her up and make sweet fake love to her (though they are going to strip clubs so that makes sense). It’s a scene that is both exciting and infuriating at the same time.
What that scene lacks is unnecessarily injected into this film in the form of Zoe (Amber Heard) who acts as the person who doubts Mike’s charm for the duration of the film. She’s a love interest that replaces Cody Horn’s character from the first film, but adds nothing new to the table other than that Amber Heard is a much more capable actress. Whereas conversations between the five main characters can be funny and engaging at times, every conversation between Zoe and Mike is cringe-worthy. The point might be to be awkward, but it really slows the film down when there are abs to be shown and plenty of charisma being pent-up.
Magic Mike XXL does the weirdest thing a sequel can do, which is backpedal on the tone, world-building, and character development of the first film. It instead becomes a Pitch Perfect film where everyone has a unified set of goals and will give it their all to put on a show for both the characters in the audience of strip clubs, and the audience going to see the film. Even ending with a large stripper convention is too similar to the a capella world championships of Pitch Perfect 2. Mike becomes part of an ensemble, which benefits the movie, but hurts the character development that Magic Mike fleshed out. It’s a backwards film that somehow manages to be exciting, but far less significant than its predecessor.