Back in 2012, the meteoric rise of Channing Tatum from disrespected pretty-boy to legitimate movie star was cemented with a pulpy little stripper film by the name of Magic Mike. Based on Tatum’s own experiences as a male stripper, the film proved to be an alluring choice for many who find themselves swooning under the gleam of the star’s incredible physique. While I personally found the movie a bit empty and plot-less, it seemed as though many critics were impressed, praising director Steven Soderbergh’s sensitive take on the material. Now, three years later, the boys are back with a brand new batch of routines, and although Soderbergh has now taken a backseat to his longtime assistant director Gregory Jacobs, the hope is to recapture the very same magic that drew people in before.
The story picks up three years after the first one. Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) is struggling to run his own contracting company, hoping to get his own retail space sooner than later. However, when he receives a call from his old stripper buddies, saying that Dallas (formally played by Matthew McConaughey, who sits this one out) has passed away, Mike heads to the wake. Fortunately, it turns out that Dallas isn’t dead after all, and the boys just needed an excuse to bring Mike back for one last run, as Dallas has ditched them right before a big stripper convention in Florida. Begrudgingly eager to pick up where he left off, Mike joins the guys on their adventure, and a whole lot of the old sexy dancing and debauchery ensue.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the original Magic Mike was that despite the film’s attempt to develop Mike as a three dimensional character, it completely forgot about the other members of the group. This made it hard to get particularly attached to these guys, and in turn care about their demons. Fortunately, Magic Mike XXL makes up for this in spades, finally giving Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez some personality and chemistry. A great deal of this movie is spent just watching these guys talk, and their conversations are often very funny and always authentic. Meanwhile, Tatum continues his streak of solid performances here, with the perfect amount of understated charm needed to give Mike that leading man spark. Meanwhile, there are plenty of new supporting players here to make up for the lack of McConaughey. Jada Pinkett Smith has a whole lot of fun as the icy and sexy woman the guys find to be their new MC, Amber Heard is a great deal more believable in the love interest role than the cardboard cutout that was Cody Horn, and Donald Glover has a couple truly shining moments as a guy who is more of a nude serenader than a stripper.
As soon as I saw Tatum welding to the tune of ‘Pony’, it became clear that this was going to be lighter and more absurd in tone than the original, which works really well. While there certainly are some well played emotional beats, it seems as though everyone involved has realized that at heart, a movie about a bunch of male strippers should be as nimble and light on its feet as the dancers themselves. There is constantly something funny happening here, even if it’s just an enjoyable conversation, keeping things from getting bogged down in extended scenes of nothing, a huge problem before. In fact, there are several scenes where things just go full out weird, to perfect effect. While there certainly is a lull here and there, more often than not it will quickly be wiggled out of on the way to something entertaining.
As for the dancing itself, it’s an absolute treat even if it doesn’t exactly tingle your loins. Tatum is a master at movement, and watching him and the other guys at work is nothing short of astonishing. While there might not be as much of it throughout as one might expect, the final dance sequence, which goes on for about twenty minutes, is one of non-stop creativity and choreography, and since these guys are now easy to care about, it makes those moves all the more sweet.
While Magic Mike XXL certainly isn’t a perfect movie, it improves heavily on the original in almost every way. It’s a much more accessible, and enjoyable movie, that finally gives each and every one of it’s charismatic cast members something to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a screaming Tatum fan-girl, a guy who’s been dragged by his girlfriend, or something in between, you’re likely to find something to enjoy in this surprisingly delicious piece of beefcake.