Drop what you’re doing and go see Magic Mike XXL right now.
There it is. That’s my review.
Okay, that’s not the whole review, but it’s the most important part, because it’s kind of hard to do the film justice with words alone. Before seeing it I heard so many good things, from so many different people, and still I was blown away. So, go see the film. Read on, if you must, but know that my words barely scratch the surface of the emotional rush that is Magic Mike XXL.
This is a film about strippers (sorry – male entertainers). It’s also a film about body positivity, sex positivity, friendship, and togetherness. It’s not really a film about conflict – there are plenty of small, ground-level obstacles, but no overarching villain, literal or theoretical – and yet it’s a film steeped in character growth through harmony and cooperation.
A slightly awkward opening does a quick job of cutting almost all ties to the abysmal first film by explaining that Dallas and “the kid” have gone off to Asia for Reasons, leaving the remaining Kings of Tampa to go out with a bang before heading off in new directions. Their destination: an annual stripper convention at Myrtle Beach.
From that point on, it’s basically a non-stop journey of fun, laughs, and good feelings – the antithesis of Magic Mike. In place of the hacked together, “gritty”, drug-addled plot that made up most of the first movie, this one is bursting with energy and positivity. Instead of weirdly shaming sexuality in almost the same breath as celebrating it, MMXXL sticks closely to the very important theme of “sexuality is great, and something nobody should be denied.” Instead of using fat women as punchlines, XXL says that fat women (and women of colour, and older women, and slutty women, and drag queens) are beautiful, amazing, sexy as fuck people who deserve not only respect, but to be treated like goddesses.
This is one of the reasons I think Magic Mike XXL is a film that people need to see. As much as it’s a fun, happy time, it makes steps to tear down some of the awful constructions of gender and sexuality that are so pervasive pop culture, high art, and society as a whole. Women – all women – should be celebrated.
This theme is made abundantly clear through Jada Pinkett Smith’s character, Rome. The owner of a lustrous, all-male strip club called Domina, Rome is a woman who loves women and wants them to love themselves. Domina is a place where women can come to be worshipped and to feel beautiful. This is evident in her exclusive use of the word “queens” when talking to or about women, and in the outrageously sexy moves of her dancers – moves that are very much focused on the pleasure and participation of women in the audience, and not just on admiring the sexiness of the dancers themselves. Think a lot of sensual caresses, and plenty of simulated giving of head. Hot.
Magic Mike XXL also toys with common constructions of masculinity, mainly by placing male friendship, rather than competition, at the centre. Each one of the dancers has his own dreams about life beyond the trip to Myrtle Beach, and there’s a constant thread of them supporting and helping each other to figure out and work towards those goals. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the words “I love you” spoken from man to platonic male friend so many times in a film, and for it to feel so genuine. It’s never the precursor to an awkward silence meant to be humorous, as is so frustratingly often the case.
So, people’s bodies aren’t the punchlines of jokes. Male bonding isn’t the punchline of jokes. People being hurt and insulted aren’t the punchlines of jokes. And yet, this movie is hilarious; I was laughing almost non-stop throughout the film, as was everyone else in the cinema. My cheeks were sore by the time I walked out of there. The best part is that none of the jokes come at the expense of anyone. There’s never any humour derived from dehumanising people, despite there being so many opportunities to go down that path.
This respect for its characters is one of the things that surprised me most, even after hearing people talk so much about it. Almost every character, minor or major, has depth and a sense of purpose; is flawed in a way that makes them fundamentally likeable and relateable, instead of crossing the threshold into “broken” or cartoonishly bad. The one exception is Amber Heard’s character, Zoe, who is reminiscent of Cody Horn’s character from the first film. Much better acted, to be sure, but still bland, lacking any real motivation, and felt shoehorned in for a romantic subplot that didn’t work and that the film certainly didn’t need.
Superficially, Magic Mike XXL couldn’t be more different than Mad Max: Fury Road, and yet it reminded me so much of it. Both are big, fun summer blockbusters that not only manage to meld their fun elements – Mad Max’s action, Magic Mike’s lighthearted humour – with a kind of depth and sense of character, but do so organically and in a way that makes every piece of the puzzle work in concert for a better film. There’s no forced moralising here, like that of Jurassic World, just a concentrated vision and purpose that makes each film so much more than the sum of its parts.
So, like I said before. Drop what you’re seeing and go see Magic Mike XXL. You won’t regret it.
Also, buy the soundtrack, because it’s fucking fantastic.