Do I have to preface this with the fact that I am comfortable enough with myself to say that a movie about male strippers is good? More than that, it’s great! That sex and sexuality are put fully on display through nearly the entire runtime and yet there isn’t some prissy churchgoer who wants to shut the party down? No mayor who wants to ban dancing at the Prom? These are five guys who know who they are and what they do, and yet there isn’t a hint of shame to it? Better yet, these guys are proud of what they do. They know the impact they have on the women they dance for and they know what they mean to each other, and yet it is all completely heteronormative. It’s all funny, relatable, emotional, and sexual in a way that doesn’t demean the men who are performing or the women who are enjoying. It’s one big party. Yeah, it’s guys dancing, but as the film will tell you, what’s wrong with that?
Channing Tatum reprises his role as “Magic” Mike Lane, having started his furniture business from the last movie, and he’s making progress as a small business owner. After briefly reuniting with his old stripping crew sans-McConaughey’s Dallas, he agrees to go on a roadtrip to Myrtle Beach for a big male strippers convention as a final blowout for the troupe. On the way they’ll dance, do drugs, dance for small crowds, laugh with each other, and dance for bigger crowds.
There’s not quite as much meat on this one, having previously taken on some of the (deservedly) shadier elements of the industry, but the change in tone is completely welcome. Instead of looking at the business as a downward spiral from which to escape, Mike’s excited to get back together with the people he’s spent so much of his life with. Everyone constantly talks about getting out and doing bigger and better things, but it seems like they’re all staying put just so they can stick with each other.
Magic Mike XXL isn’t subtle about its themes either. A brief stop in a gas station convenience store is made both funny and endearing when Joe Manganiello’s Richie has a crisis of confidence and re-empowers himself by making the sulky girl behind the counter smile with a routine in which he destroys a bag of Cheetos and pours a bottle of water over his head. It’s over the top and ridiculous, but the film continually goes to great lengths to make you know that this is what they like to do, and that the women who enjoy it can feel just as empowered as they do by it. There’s no sense of subjugation on either side of the equation.
Men are men, women are women, and no one’s getting their fun at the expense of anyone else. Women aren’t put on a pedestal, but they are always treated with respect, made all the more explicit when Mike specifies that his god is a she. It’s all about reverence, knowing what makes you happy and what doesn’t, like when the group releases themselves from the mires of every cliché male stripper dance routine you can think of and instead create something original and entirely theirs for the big show at the end.
Magic Mike XXL might not be for you based on how I just described it, but it’s important solely for the fact that it doesn’t hide what it’s about or punish its characters for enjoying what they do. It’s a road trip, a comedy, and a fun time for everyone making it and everyone watching it. I fully recommend seeing it.
Magic Mike XXL Premieres on HBO This Saturday, February 20th. Note the start time is 9:00pm