This partially clad follow-up is a seductive comedy littered with striking set pieces and an entertaining embrace of pleasure.
When viewers first met the Kings of Tampa in 2012's Magic Mike, the all-male revue revelled in being strippers – until the titular figure and their pseudo on-stage leader, didn't. Mike Lane (Channing Tatum, Jupiter Ascending) always worked construction on the side, trying to drum up enough cash to finance his own custom furniture design outfit, yet was happy enough taking his clothes off to music for a crowd of paying, adoring women. Of course, Steven Soderbergh's film made plain that Mike's night-time profession and the accompanying partying was a means to an end in America's contemporary economic climate, and something that he was working to move on from. Before managerial dealings soured his drive and a love interest made him question his choices, however, his job was still one he – and his colleagues Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello, TV's True Blood), Ken (Matt Bomer, American Horror Story), Tarzan (Kevin Nash, John Wick), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez, About Last Night) – enjoyed, issues and all.
In Magic Mike XXL, the bigger, beefier sequel, the troupe now prefer to be called male entertainers – and the change of label comes with a subtle change of focus. Mike has tried living the coupled, fully-clothed, business-owning dream, but a series of disappointments see him long for the thrill of taking the stage again. His former band of brothers and their DJ Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias, A Haunted House 2), en route to an annual stripper showcase in Myrtle Beach, are more than happy to oblige his reignited passion on their interstate trek, as well as their own. This time, on what they deem their last ride, they're performing for the love of what they do – a legitimate industry, that they regard as such – and for the love of regaling their female audience.
Like characters, like film, because Magic Mike XXL is also concerned with pleasure and gratification, rather than the worries that might get in their way of their pursuit. The gang remain stranded on the path to other achievements, be it acting, painting, or running a mobile frozen yoghurt van; however here and now, they're simply doing what they do best and showing ladies an innuendo-filled good time with well-meaning intentions. The movie relishes following their road trip, meeting new friends – the cynical photographer Zoe, (Amber Heard 3 Days to Kill), a screen surrogate for the less erotically enthused; one of Mike's former colleagues, the take-charge Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith, Gotham); and the South Carolina matriarch looking for lust, Nancy (Andie MacDowell, Footloose) – along the way. There's little drama, other than an accident that justifies the fresh arrivals, plus a debate over whether to try new routines and be true to themselves in their performances; Mike and his men are celebrating, as is the feature.
Cue a seductive comedy littered with striking set pieces of the partially robed and stunningly choreographed variety. Cue a positive mindset offered to the diverse faces, bodies and urges within the film's frame, with the same respect and empowerment also afforded the viewer. Magic Mike XXL meanders and repeats itself in a narrative sense, its sketch of a story just enough to justify new additions, songs and gyrations, but it owns its indulgence – and remains open and accepting to all who wish to indulge in turn. Consider the movie's many stops before its climax, a whirlwind tour of audience segments, with the group joyfully voguing at a drag show, trying to brighten up the day of a service station cashier, slinking through a hedonistic house largely catering to African American performers and patrons, and courting a swathe of unsatisfied older ladies.
That these inclusions don't feel like calculated moves to broaden the film's scope, nor easy fan service, speaks to the skill in which an effort predicated upon such a flimsy plot pulls off its individual scenes, and then shapes them into a cohesive whole. After working as the first assistant director on Magic Mike – as well as the bulk of Soderbergh's output since 1993's King of the Hill – Gregory Jacobs (Wind Chill) steps into the helmer's chair to guide a feature with the same warm, summertime glow as its predecessor, but with a distinctive shift towards the more upbeat in tone. The familiar aesthetic sheen stems from Soderbergh, once more shooting and editing under his well-known pseudonyms. The energy springs from a raft of factors: the heightening of dialogue over story, which is where returning writer and producer Reid Carolin excels; a soundtrack that veers from the Backstreet Boys to Nine Inch Nails; increased stakes in the fancy footsteps, thrusts and simulated foreplay department; and the well-chosen cast.
Indeed, here more than in the first film, much of the feature's success sits with Tatum again reliving times from his own past, his co-stars, and the camaraderie they convincingly cultivate. Magic Mike XXL may be a movie about men unashamedly made for women, but it sells the bonding crucial to the on-screen alchemy between its dancers, aided by the rest of the core group receiving more screen time in the absence of Magic Mike's Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer. They're not just their chiselled physiques, even if that's where the camera gazes more often than not to prolong the fantasy — and in the service of such, nor do they devolve into the usual male stereotypes. As the movie's early standout scene shows as it gleefully reframes Flashdance with the help of Mike and his inability to suppress his magic while welding in his workshop, the characters simply want to strut their stuff to entertain women and forget their troubles. The party film that tells their tale embraces this, and, wispy and exaggerated as it may be, is all the better for it.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Magic Mike XXL
Director: Gregory Jacobs
USA, 2015, 115 mins
Release date: 9 July