Five years on, the sequel to the seminal dude-dancing movie remains a feminist celebration of desire.
You might not expect a movie filled to the brim with diamond-cut abs and highly suggestive dancing to be called progressive—wholesome, even—but Magic Mike XXL is something of a unicorn. It is the rare film that centers on pleasure in a non-judgemental way. While it is light on plot, XXL unabashedly showcases men being emotionally supportive of one another while never punching down.
Director Gregory Jacobs wisely chooses to dispense with much of the first movie’s grimmer tone. Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has hung up his thong in favor of coveralls, running his own custom furniture business. He is adjusting to life after leaving the world of male entertainment when he decides to join his old crew on a road trip to Myrtle Beach, where they’ll be dancing for massive crowds. It’s a new take on the ‘one last hurrah before we join the real world’ theme that made movies like Dazed and Confused and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so famous. There’s not much in the story, but that works to the film’s advantage.
Unlike the spate of road trip movies from the 1980s to present, there is no quest for Mike and the boys to get laid, and the hijinks are surprisingly minimal. The most memorable scene of the movie is an extended sequence in which the guys (all on Molly) convince Joe Manganiello’s Richie to make a convenience store clerk smile, leading him to do a sexy/hilarious dance to the tune of ‘I Want It That Way.’ The gag itself works so well because their motives are ultimately pure. They’re not trying to shame or harass the clerk; Richie’s only goal is to bring her pleasure; then he’ll know he’s worthy.
Reid Carolin’s pared-down script is not so much a tight, elaborate narrative but a series of loose conversations and chill group hangs. The crew talks about their hopes, the reality of aging out of the business, and dreams for the future. Mike is supportive of Tito’s (Adam Rodriguez) organic smoothie business, of Ken’s (Matt Bomer) reiki healing, and shows genuine enthusiasm for Zoe’s (Amber Heard) photography. And while there are sparks between Mike and the free-spirited, bisexual Zoe, they maintain a respectful distance until the last ten minutes of the movie.
While Magic Mike XXL might not pass the Bechdel test, it’s unquestionably a feminist film. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome runs an establishment that caters almost exclusively to Black women, a haven dedicated solely to female pleasure. It’s beautiful to see women of all ages and sizes allowing themselves to be—in Rome’s words—worshipped and exalted, which Mike and company are only too happy to do.
“There’s always a Queen up here that must be reminded of how beautiful she is,” Rome says to the crowd. It’s a line that should be out of place in a movie about male dancers, and yet it fits the narrative seamlessly. Mike and his cohorts put women and their happiness first; their only goal is to express that adoration through dance.
Richie’s big solo at the competition is not a tired fireman striptease, but a wedding set to Bruno Mars’s ‘Marry You’ (sung by Donald Glover’s Andre), followed by a deliciously raunchy sex-swing honeymoon to the tune of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer.’ Mike’s final routine, a hypnotically elaborate mirror dance, seems custom made to convince Zoe that Mike isn’t embarrassed to be a dancer despite her teasing throughout the movie. Unlike the first Magic Mike, there is no place for shame in this film — not for men who want to bring pleasure to women, and not to the women who demand it.
While the female cast is light, it is powerful. Pinkett Smith’s Rome is so compelling you want to look at her even when she’s flanked by a cadre of oiled hunks. Then there’s Elizabeth Banks’s Paris, whose brief scene with Rome carries so much sizzling chemistry you may feel your toes curling at just a few whispered words.
Unlike the first Magic Mike, there is no place for shame in this film — not for men who want to bring pleasure to women, and not to the women who demand it.
Every woman in this film is a queen, including Andie MacDowell’s delightful turn as a stylish, sexy, southern mom. MacDowell gets revenge on her philandering ex-husband by plundering the wine cellar of their antebellum home and welcoming Richie into her bed, which has been far too empty of late. “I wish we had known you guys back in our day,” she laments, surrounded by her cohorts, giggling ladies-in-waiting in all their Chicos finery. “I’d say it’s still your day, Ma’am,” Richie throws back, giving her a long, assessing look in a way that lets you know he’s speaking from the heart, among other places.
And that’s what makes Magic Mike XXL the feminist barn burner it is. No one is judged for their choices or their desires. No one is hurt. Even relaying the story of his ex-girlfriend rejecting his marriage proposal, Mike tells his friends, “I guess I just wasn’t what she was looking for.” Mike gets sympathy from his bros, but it never turns into dunking on the ex. Magic Mike XXL might be remembered now as a parade of gorgeous men in skimpy costumes pantomiming sex, but it’s my hope that in time audiences will see this movie for what it is: a joyful expression of physical, emotional, and spiritual validation. The thongs are just a bonus.