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Review: Magic Mike XXL Is Not as Good as Magic Mike, and That Makes It So Much Better

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Magic Mike XXL is not as good as Magic Mike, and it is so, so much better for it. If the first film was marked by anything it was cognitive dissonance—a somber tone and a bummer of a plot about the saddest stripper in Florida. He’s got a dream, see, but getting a loan is hard, because the economy. Magic Mike was a contemplative meditation on economic disenfranchisement and following one’s passions, sprinkled by be-strobe-lighted scenes of gyrating abs in fabulously garish fireman costumes. It ended up in the vein of a thinking man’s Showgirls—far from a joke or a failure, but perhaps too self-serious for its own good.

Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand, is a literal lapdance of a movie. It basically handwaves away all of the bad juju that went down in the first, looks at its titular character and says, “No one cares about your stupid furniture business, Mike.” Magic Mike nods in agreement, gives you a lopsided smile and starts humping the table. The audience squeals in delight. Fucking finally.

If Magic Mike XXL can be said to have a structure at all, it is as delicate and weak as a hummingbird skeleton. It’s a road trip movie about a group of dudes finding themselves by gyrating on a wide variety of titillated ladies. The Kings of Tampa are like the sex fairies, flitting from town to town, finding purpose in granting the gift of man candy to the women they come across. Each scene is a gratuitous joy that skirts the borders of meaninglessness. There are stars in my eyes, and I am bow-legged from the experience.

Joe Manganiello exposits an ecstasy-fueled dream about a wedding-based striptease routine that later culminates in perhaps the most fabulous BDSM-related scene in the history of moving images. The absolutely transfixing Jada Pinkett-Smith runs a stripper ranch for women, and most of the patrons are women of color. She calls her customers “queens,” they love her for it, and so do we, the likewise squealing audience. Plus size women get extensive scenes of being thrilled at their male entertainers catering to their desires, and it’s never played as a joke. At one point a stripper named Malik actually picks up a woman who is probably in the 300-pound range and carries her like a bride over a threshold. She is so goddamn happy, and he is proud to be of service.

Mike, despite just having gone through what looks like a bitter breakup, never shows one whiff of resentment towards women. He’s trying to find himself, bro, but he sure as hell doesn’t need to tear down women to do it. Andi MacDowell, looking fabulous, plays a drunken, undersexed Southern mom who, rather than being shamed or turned into a joke, finally gets some love in the form of Joe Manganiello’s “Big Dick Richie.” This is the first movie I’ve ever seen where it’s admitted that, yes, a big dick can be a problem (it hurts sometimes, okay?). Who’s the “glass slipper to Big Dick Richie’s uncomfortably huge dick but fabulous fucking Andi MacDowell? Yes.

Amber Heard’s character eats an entire red velvet cake while her friend’s middle-aged moms are being told how beautiful they are by the perfect-bodied “Male Entertainers” in the next room over. She and Magic Mike discuss God and the merits of cookies vs. cake, and Mike tells her “yes, my God is a She” before twirling out of the room. She’s a character that feels like she might have served some sort of narrative purpose in an earlier draft, and they forgot to write her out because they’d already cast the part. I don’t care, because “God is a She” and then he twirled for her. For her. Not because he expected anything from her in return, though. Magic Mike don’t play like that.

Mike’s not ready for a relationship yet, or even ready to try for one, but you know what? That’s not the point. They make a connection anyway, one that culminates with him humping her face on stage in front of hundreds of screaming lady while he high fives his co-dancer, Malik, and what a life-affirming fucking high five it is.

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We are all Amber Heard in a delightful man-sandwich. The movie is the red velvet cake. I am crying with happiness and make a tear for the nearest Shake Shack the very second the movie is over.

We are all Queens, and we deserve some goddamn red velvet cake.

In what’s probably the most thoughtful scene in the movie that doesn’t involve stripping, Donald Glover’s character, Andre, explained that he initially got into the male stripping game out of financial need, and thought he’d hate it. But then he came to appreciate the value in titillating women for a living—using his specific talents to make them feel beautiful. Childish Gambino has found a way to marry his passion for music to his work as a male sex object, and his customers adore him for it. He adores his customers. Everyone’s just so fucking happy with their life decisions. Andre can do it, boys—now you can, too.

The movie ends on with the Kings of Tampa staring over the ocean at some fireworks. Rather, it ends with them staring at a PA waving a cookie over some lights because they didn’t have the budget for actual fireworks. It’s unclear as to whether or not they actually win the Stripper Convention. Was this really their last hurrah? Is Mike going back to his struggling furniture business? Who cares? The ladies love them, and that makes them feel good for the time being. No one cares about your furniture business, Magic Mike. But do you hear that? The opening beat to “Pony” just dropped. You know what to do.

Being in the business of titillating women is ultimately beneath them. In Magic Mike XXL, women’s pleasure is put front and center. Other critics have put forth the idea that there’s ultimately no point to this shallow romp through banana hammock Disneyland, but I disagree—it’s about reconciling the cognitive dissonance of the first one, and that, yes, a man can take some pride in acting out women’s fantasies for a modest shower of dollar bills. In that regard, Magic Mike XXL is the more mature of the two—one need not be ashamed of their stripper identity. It doesn’t always have to be either/or—it can be both.

Lindsay vlogs on various topics nerdy and nostalgic on YouTube, co-hosts irreverent book show “Booze Your Own Adventure,” and is co-founder ofChezApocalypse.com. If you don’t mind your timeline flooded with tweets about old cartoons, dog pictures and Michael Bay, you can follow her on Twitter.

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