The first Magic Mike was actually a surprisingly decent film, at once being both a meditation on the working class and how sometimes they will do anything to survive, even pawning off their good looks, while simultaneously being a celebration of male stripping as an exhibitionary art form. The former was what elevated the film beyond being exploitative drivel, acting not only as a draw for the straight female gaze but also as a study of an underground subculture that star Channing Tatum had once been a member of. The sequel, Magic Mike XXL, all but completely abandons its depth and subtext in favor of being a film solely and exclusively about stripping, much to the film’s detriment.
This is largely evidenced by the absence of most of the supporting cast from the last film, including the love interest, protégé, and manager who were so instrumental to the first film’s conflict. Instead, we’re stuck with Channing Tatum (usually not a bad guy to be stuck with) and the other male dancers from the previous film, all with beefed up speaking roles in order to fill out the gaps. The premise this time is that Mike (Tatum) has gotten out of the stripping life and has opened his own small business, yet still longs for the days when he was in the spotlight. He reunites with his old stripping buddies who are about to go down to the ever-so-creatively named “Stripper Convention” (seriously, that’s what the thing is called) to put on one last show together. Mike decides he’s in, and road trip shenanigans ensue.
This premise is about as shallow and mandatorily sequelizing and producer-driven as it sounds, acting more as an excuse to populate the film with ever more clothing-destroying dance numbers than to act as any sort of contemplative story. There is some lip service paid to the fact that the dancers aren’t getting any younger and that none of them really know what they want to do after their retirement from stripping, but none of these issues are substantively addressed by the film’s climax, which functions as about fifteen minutes of straight performance. And to the film’s credit, the dance numbers are very well choreographed, so much so that it strains the bounds of plausibility that these guys were able to formulate these routines while on the road, but maybe that’s missing the point.
Unfortunately, though, at almost two hours long, the never-ending and excessive fan service overstays its welcome, meaning that if you wanted to see anything other than two straight hours of stripping, this film is most certainly not for you. What’s actually most obnoxious about the film is how blatantly and manipulatively it tries to appeal to as many demographics as possible, to the point where you could almost fill out a bingo card with its targets. There’s a stripping scene meant to appeal to millennials with a Backstreet Boys song, another in a drag club for the gay community, another in an underground venue to garner black support, and yet another with middle-aged white women who are such cougars that you can practically see their claws. Diversity is one thing when it is used to representatively formulate a main cast, but it is quite another when various demographics are being nakedly pandered to through projection.
This is less a film than it is a glorified strip show, and that shouldn’t be surprising given how the film was marketed and who it was marketed to. Is it good at what it’s attempting to do? Sure. I’m no expert on the art of stripping, but the performers seem good at it and from a sexual perspective, yes, the cast are all very attractive. But does that make this a good film? I don’t think so. As something so obviously manipulative with barely any effort put into story or characters, Magic Mike XXL can only justify its existence by the millions of screaming women who went to see it in theaters. It may have made the studio a lot of money, but that doesn’t make it any less exploitative.