Let me refresh your memory: the first Magic Mike film left us with a bittersweet taste in our mouths (…pun probably intended) as Mike (Channing Tatum) quit the stripper life to pursue more conventional business ventures and a relationship with The Kid (Alex Pettyfer)’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). There had been drugs, and bad blood, and some unnamed toxicity that even Mike couldn’t stand anymore, leading to his exit pretty much mid-show. It was a surprise and a total subversion of expectations that a movie about male strippers was basically a cautionary tale against that sort of lifestyle.
Now it’s three years later, and Magic Mike XXL doesn’t spare any time flashbacking you into comfort: we learn pretty quickly that Mike’s new life wasn’t all he amped it up to be, and when the Kings of Tampa return briefly before embarking on a road trip to the annual Stripper Convention in Myrtle Beach, SC, it takes him nearly a second to say yes.
This film is basically if Pitch Perfect was about strippers, complete with pit stops where they meet new and old friends and learn things about themselves and the game of delivering fantasies to excited throngs of women. It’s what you probably expected the first movie to be before it hit you in the face with its sombre plotline: road trip movie meets competition, with glitzy dance routines as intense as high octane action sequences.
With the removal of Dallas (Matthew McConnaughey) and The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) as the toxic influences on Mike’s life, all that’s really left is the fun he had and the friends he made while dancing at Xquisite. While they were merely peripheral in the first film (with the focus falling on The Kid’s story), now they each get a chance to show their personalities: Tito (Adam Rodriguez) now owns a food truck for artisanal frozen yoghurt, along with Tobias (Gabriel Inglesias) who DJs from the other side; Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello)—or BDR for short—longs to meet someone he can settle down with, his proverbial ‘glass slipper’ who will fit perfectly around his really big… foot; Ken (Matt Bomer) is pursuing acting and singing again, like he did before he started dancing; and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) reveals an uncanny talent for painting, and an illustrious and sad past none of the guys had any idea about.
And Mike… Mike just wants to dance. And dance he does.
There’s about 250% more women in this film, finally, and they are all sensuous and fierce and sexy as hell, from Mad Mary’s drag queen show in Jacksonville to Savannah, GA and Domina, where Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith), an MC and Mike’s furious ex, runs a subscription-based club where beauty is worshipped and celebrated both ways: the dancers are exalted by the customers, and the customers are made to feel like queens. Rome’s star acts include Andre (Community’s Donald Glover), who sings impromptu RnB to shy customers; Malik (Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss), whose dancing might even be better than Mike’s; and Marcus (Michael Strahan), whose athletic physique comes second to his incredibly sensuous dancing which affirms that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and that desire is a deeply personal and wonderful thing.
Here the Kings of Tampa learn that they need to elevate their outdated and boring act into something honest and personal if they want to make a splash at the convention, but it isn’t until they stumble into the lush home of rich (and definitely inebriated) Southern Belle Nancy (Andie MacDowell), whose living room becomes the ground where the boys truly understand what a woman wants (and BDR finally finds his glass slipper), that they grow into the male entertainers they were always meant to be.
While lacking any sort of sombre undertones, Magic Mike XXL continues to subvert expectations by allowing all the guys to get in touch with their sensual side, to explore the true meaning of fantasy and desire, and to change their outlook on stripping by focusing on the desires of women rather than handing them a pre-packaged, stereotyped deal. There is an almost queer quality to their reckless abandon when, spurred on by Dallas’ departure and the people they meet along the way to Myrtle Beach, the former Cock-Rocking Kings of Tampa reject the routines they spent years perfecting—the soldier, the fireman, the cowboy in the assless chaps—and come up with entirely new acts that showcase their individualities by making women’s desires the epicentre of their new routines.
When they finally reach the convention and swindle their way into a prime-time slot with the convention’s MC, Paris (Elizabeth Banks), the former Kings of Tampa and their new Domina recruits are an unstoppable force that exhilarates and thrills all.