Three years after Mike gave up the stripping game, the Kings of Tampa Bay have roped him back in for one last career defining show at the Myrtle Beach Stripping Convention.
Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike was one of 2012's biggest surprises. What was marketed as a Step Up esque dance movie turned out to be a deep look at the characters in this business, who they are and why they do it. XXL is very similar in that regard, the marketing and understandably so has focused on the big bombastic dance scenes in the film, but there is so much more here.
Gregory Jacobs has taken over directing duties from Soderbergh for this sequel but Soderbergh was still highly involved, both as a producer and the director of photography. This is where the film exceeds expectations, this is a beautifully shot film, lighting and shadows are used to their best advantage. The first film was oddly lit and looked incredibly dim at times, but XXL is vibrant, lively and marvelous to look at. Jacobs does a good job in the directors chair, and made a much more entertaining film than Soderbergh did whilst still carrying over some of the deeper themes from that first film.
The first film delved into the life of Mike played by Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher, 22 Jump Street), what his hopes and dreams are and whether or not he really want to be in this business. In XXL we learn more about all of the characters, and who they really are. Throughout the film each characters purpose is questioned, what they really want to do in life and why they're currently in the male entertainment business. The theme of pleasure was also explored, whilst the Kings of Tampa are up on stage dry humping women's faces, the expressions of viewers are highlighted. The way they effect the woman they're dancing for is a serious reason as to why these characters continue doing what they're doing. The money of the actual job is hardly ever touched upon, but the much more spiritual reason as to why they're doing these shows is.
At first glance Magic Mike XXL is a road-trip film about five male entertainers on the road to a convention at which they will earn some easy money, but it's really about the comradery between five guys who love what they do. As these characters decide how they're going to make themselves remembered at this convention, they hit a couple of roadblocks and make some interesting stops along the way. A gas station in which Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) attempts to make a girl smile whilst dancing to Backstreet Boys and a party full of middle aged women with marital issues in which the group provide some entertainment are two of the best scenes in the film. All five of these characters have their own goals, they're own stories and along the way we learn more about all of them. Their personalities are brought out in their final performance, instead of dressing up as cops or firemen, the dancers craft their own individual and personal routines to show who they really are.
For those audience members who were let down by Magic Mike's deeper subtext, XXL may be more up your street as there is a lot more male stripping scenes, but for those of you like me who were pleasantly surprised by the film's themes, you should also have a good time. A big part of what made the original Magic Mike so endearing was Matthew McConaughey as Dallas the MC of the group, unfortunately McConaughey did not return for XXL and instead Jada Pinkett Smith takes over a similar role. The entire cast do a great job and are obviously having a blast in these roles.
Channing Tatum who leads the film is very good in this role, he really owns it. Since the first Magic Mike, Tatum has blown us all away with both his comedy and dramatic skills. But in Magic Mike the most notable aspect of his performance are his athletic skills. Tatum is a magnificent dancer and it's clear in all of the dancing scenes that it's not a double in his place. He outshines all of the other actors because of his experience and history with this art. He was also very funny in the film which is no longer a surprise to us after his surprising turn in the Jump Street films.
Sometimes the film will reach and attempt to create some genuine emotion, some history between characters is hinted at in order to create tension or sadness but personally I never felt that.
With XXL I was expecting a much more straight forward and crowd pleasing film but thankfully the filmmakers actually crafted something interesting here. The characters, story and themes all made XXL entertaining throughout its 115 minute run-time. Of course for the male viewer, a lot of the dance scenes can become quite awkward, but the excellent photography and incredible dance choreography may be able to distract you from what's actually happening up on screen. Magic Mike XXL like its title suggests is a bigger and better film that it's predecessor.
Have you seen Magic Mike XXL? If so, let me know what you thought about it in the comments or on Twitter @JamesPorter97