Review: 'Magic Mike XXL' Surpasses the Original on Every Last Stage
by Jeremy Kirk
July 1, 2015
Channing Tatum is America's sweetheart. All he does is win, win, win. Even when you think he has taken on a dud or a sequel that couldn't possibly live up to the original, he and the films in which he performs have a way of shocking you with excitement. This is true, as well, of Magic Mike XXL, a sequel to Tatum's coming out party to Hollywood stardom and a film that, biggest shock of them all, surpasses its predecessor. Smarter, sexier, and cooler, Magic Mike XXL is an invigorating piece of entertainment, a solid dramedy about friends and coworkers – even if those coworkers are fellow, male strippers – and a relevant and honest look at the current state of the sexes. Most important of all, it's a better film than the first one.
The opening moments may disappoint Magic Mike XXL's key demographic. Mike Lane (Tatum) has moved on from his days moving and gyrating in impossible ways at the Xquisite Strip Club. He's now living his professional dream in Tampa, Florida designing and building custom furniture, his personal life a little bit more in question. All of his plans come into question, though, when he's contacted by the Kings of Tampa (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, and Adam Rodriguez), his former stage-mates who he hasn't seen in three years. They inform him the club is closing, their boss, Dallas (the absent-here Matthew McConaughey) has taken his best dancer to China, and the group is road-tripping it to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for an annual stripper convention. What would the Kings of Tampa be without Magic Mike?
It isn't long before Magic Mike XXL reminds us why we fell in love with this, these supporting players, and this entire world in the first place. Mike blows the road-trip idea casually, goes back to his shop for some metal work, and then, as if a sign from God, Ginuwine's "Pony" – Mike's signature song – comes over the radio. Protective mask covering his head, blowtorch in hand, he looks up from his work – Maybe at us. We can't see his face, and the head shake he then gives the camera lets us know Mike is about to blow our minds with some magic.
He just can't help it. This gift he's been given - And I guess Channing Tatum has been given. I don't believe any of what we see here is created through digital manipulation - is just to strong to contain, and, although he desires to create artistic furniture, his God-given talents to make art with his body cannot be denied or stopped. You just have to put it away for awhile, I guess, like Mr. Babadook.
Tatum is the star of the show, but director Gregory Jacobs knows exactly how to shoot his star. He should. Jacobs has been first assistant director to Steven Soderbergh – remember he made the first Magic Mike? – since King of the Hill in 1993, aside from being and Soderbergh's producing partner since 2002's Full Frontal. Let's be succinct here. Jacobs has got the look down. Not that Soderbergh has much of a style speaking in terms of auteurism. But that eye for perfect lighting choices, natural camera movement, engaging frames - Every frame of this movie is fucking gorgeous – and a grasp for the art in such an effortless way, you can bend the filmmaking rules without breaking them.
There are scenes early in Magic Mike XXL where you may think there's something wrong with the bulb, the backgrounds and sometimes our lead actors' faces are so dark. The transitions to brighter colors show that, no, Jacobs understands the art so well he can play with it to add mood. Sometimes the film feels over-directed, the "More is more" style that's permeating the industry these days. Again, no, Jacobs knows when to use that style and when to restrain himself. It all serves the film's incredible mood. The bright, red lights ahead tell us we're about to have a helluva good time.
Who would've thought that helluva good time would come in the form of a road-trip movie, the Kings driving the 500 miles from Tampa to Myrtle Beach in their buddy Tobias' (Gabriel Iglesias) frozen yogurt truck and getting back to knowing each other. As with any, good road-trip movie, there are a lot of pit-stops along the way and A LOT of unscheduled detours.
One of these brings them to Zoe (Amber Heard), a lost soul who may be a possibility for Mike's long-term future, and Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), a maternal figure from Mike's past to whom he now needs to ask help. All mixed up in the middle are the screaming, hooting, hollering women who make up the Kings' audience. The sweat flies. The dollar bills rain. At every turn, most of them comedic, Jacobs' direction, Reid Carolin's screenplay, and the dynamite performances from, hell, everybody including some incredible cameos all come together in perfect fashion.
Carolin's screenplay, by the way, is so much more than a casual fling with some old characters. Magic Mike, which Carolin also wrote, was about introducing us to this world, and, I guess, celebrating it while making it a little more comfortable for the rest of us, those of us who weren't hooting and hollering during the first film. Magic Mike XXL knows you're in for some fun, it just did some Molly, and it's ready to party. Enjoy the fucking ride.