Magic Mike was a bit of a surprise hit in 2012. The Steven Soderbergh-directed picture brought in over $167 million worldwide on an estimated budget of just $7 million. The big numbers came as a result of what could be considered an almost genius collision of elements: the flaunting of bodies by Channing Tatum and co.; deceptively straightforward-yet thematically aware direction by Soderbergh; and, primarily, a light and fluffy screenplay that snuck in some decent characterisation and issues surrounding male insecurities. How do you follow that up? Well, the audience is only here for the bodies, right?
We meet up with Mike (Tatum) around three years after the events in the first film. We gather quickly that he is no longer with his girl (played by Cody Horn in the first pic) and that things may not be going so well with his furniture business. When his buddies trick him into turning up at one of their presumably many wild parties, you’ll barely be able to notice how long it takes it for him to be convinced of one thing: he has to travel with them to Myrtle Beach for one last performance.
That’s it. There really isn’t too much more that happens. Without spoilers, the film goes on as follows: dancing, girls, bro-talk, dancing, girls, bro-talk, big dance, credits. Arguably, one could say the same thing about the first film, and while that is true on a basic level, the first film infused a level of charm and at least one or two layers of subtext into at least some moments. Ultimately, there’s just none of that here.
Reid Carolin seems to have taken the easy way out with his screenplay. Either that, or the ad-libbing format of scene crafting is a level of creative freedom that may have not been ideal this time around. Director Gregory Jacobs, with Soderbergh on board as D.O.P., may not quite have the ability down pat to move with such confidence. The main issue here comes down to plot development, or lack thereof. There are the bare bones of an emotional, character-driven structure, to be sure. Many of these guys feel a little lost in the world, some are worried about what they’ll do after their lives as male entertainers come to an end, and, ultimately, it’s the camaraderie within their team that holds them down.
The frustrating element of Magic Mike XXL arises as the film progresses, moving with an infectiously carefree pace from one inconsequential event to the next. The frustrating element, you realise, is that there just isn’t really anything here to care about. One could make the argument that there doesn’t have to be anything to care about, that it’s all just good fun and that there’s enough eye candy to ensure a good time. In a way, they’d be right. The fun elements are indeed there, yet the enjoyment they provide become limited with the almost detrimental sense of wild abandon plaguing the proceedings. Thankfully, the cast brings everything up a notch.
Channing Tatum has become quite the confident actor over the years. He’s completely at home here, with Mike coming across as a natural extension of the actor’s real-life persona. Yet, it’s the team dynamic that drives the entertainment factor, at least in the scenes in which there’s no one gyrating (yes, there are a few). Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer are no longer around, their absence summed up in some quick throwaway lines, so it’s on the rest of the guys – “and some new faces along the way ” – to ensure the banter keeps our attention going between every lap dance. Despite the major quibbles discussed previously, Magic Mike XXL manages to avoid being completely dull, and that’s thanks to the level of energy brought on by the cast. Joe Manganiello, in particular, is an absolute standout, driving every scene he’s in with gusto and enthusiasm (that gas station scene is fantastic).
While the boys fare mostly okay, the girls really don’t have too much to do. The issue, it seems, is that there are attempts to bring more out of them despite having neither the time nor the backstory to warrant it. Jada Pinkett Smith does her best with the meatiest female role, yet is mostly there to serve as the crowd-hyping MC at a later point. Andie MacDowell also does what she can with a part that ultimately serves one punchline, while Amber Heard surprises by being a tacked-on love-interest of sorts for our Mike, while adding barely a thing to the overall “plot”. Elizabeth Banks’ inclusion is just mind-boggling.
At the end of the day, many will be coming to Magic Mike XXL for the film’s key… assets, and on that end, it doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of beat-thumping, hip-thrusting, muscle-flexing moments for the crowd to enjoy. The set pieces are bigger this time around and the choreography is more than impressive enough to get those eyebrows raised. From Tatum’s solo workshop routine, to the crazy shenanigans in a dimly lit house, to the jaw-dropping team-up finale, those that came for the entertainment won’t be disappointed.
Magic Mike XXL deserves credit for proudly thrusting its goods at its intended market. There’s no pretence here, nor should there be – it is what it is. You arrive, you throw some money, you enjoy the view, then leave feeling frustrated, and looking for something with at least some depth.