When Magic Mike XXL was at my local cinema, none of my friends wanted to go see it. They thought that it was a “girl” movie. That it would be all about titillation and ripped abs.
In a way, they were right. They were also very wrong. This is a movie aimed at women, that much is obvious. What makes it so however, isn’t the ripped men taking their shirts off, although it’s certainly a factor, but the way it treats women’s desires and self worth. One dollar bills are raining down from the sky but nobody picks them up. It’s not about that, it’s about making women feel good about themselves. It’s would be a stretch of the truth to say that this is what a strippers job is really like and the movie clearly ignores more problematic parts of the industry, but by focusing in on this positive aspect of the job, it taps into something joyous and wonderful and unique.
It’s a movie where the women of all sizes and ethnicity are referred to as “Queens”. They are listened to and they are cared about and then they get grinded on a little, because who doesn’t want that? Maybe these people don’t get that at home, maybe they are going through some things, maybe they don’t have anyone that seems to care? That’s what these characters do. When these women walk out of the strip club, they feel better about themselves than when they went in, and that’s what this film is about. This is not a film about sex. It’s a film about how much good it can do for a person to feel loved, even if it’s just for a little while.
The characters in this film are all interesting, and they all have their own problems. It is a film simply about a journey to a stripper convention. The titular character, Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), has been away from the industry after the events of the first film and he has come back for one last ride. A lesser movie would have made the convention into a competition. A “Oh no, the strip club is going to be shut down and they need $1 million to keep it open and oh look here is a competition where you can win $1 million!” sort of thing, and then they would drive down but Mike would screw things up and alienate his friends, all heading towards an ending where they rally together and win the competition. That’s how these films are supposed to go, right? That’s basically how the Pitch Perfect sequel went.
But Magic Mike eschews that in favour of a narrative that focuses completely on the internal issues of characters and doesn’t really have any conflict at all. It works well tonally and it gives us more time to actually explore the characters. I feel like the pacing suffers somewhat from this, but it isn’t really much of an issue.
This character exploration on the other hand is a great strength for the film. Each of those five buff fellas in the top image have their own character arc and things that they want out of life and this is all expressed through them chatting with each other but it’s also incorporated into the dances, which, and I’m looking at you, every other dance film, is how it should be.
The narrative themes of the films really follows Magic Mike. At the beginning of the movie, the woman from the last film has left him. He tried to propose romantically and give her everything she wanted, but he hasn’t listened and was wrong. The story of his character and also the story of the movie is him learning how to listen and help with people’s problems. It’s the right thing to do but it’s also what he needs as a character.
The most enjoyable character and probably the emotional heart of the movie for me, Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello, above). A character who (and I’m not joking about this) is referred to as Cinderella because his dick is too big and nobody wants to have sex with him and therefore needs a “shoe that fits”. He doesn’t know what he wants to be in his life. He dresses up as a fireman for his routines because that’s what he was always told to do, but that’s not really him. He doesn’t really know what he is. This all culminates in the scene from the trailer of him performing a dance in a convenience store. This is all so he can make the person at the counter smile. He wants to make her day. He realises that this is what he wants to do. Tatum’s character has his carpentry and Tarzan (played by the always awesome Kevin Nash) likes to paint. They have things they want to do outside of this, but Dick loves to entertain people. He realises he’s not like the others, and that’s okay.
But okay, so if you’re reading this you might be a guy. 49% of the population are. I am too. You might be thinking that because this movie isn’t made for you then there’s not much point in seeing it. I understand the viewpoint and well, you’re wrong. Magic Mike XXL is one of the best films of the year so far. Opening yourself up to see films from different perspectives and aimed at different people is one of the most beautiful aspects of cinema. This is a medium where I can be looking through the eyes of John Rambo for one film and then two hours later be watching a film through the eyes of Paddington, the bear (which is also a great film which is necessarily aimed at you). Films can be about whatever we want, so why limit yourself to ones that tell stories in such a narrow scope.
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room here: There aren’t many films that you can see that are so clearly taken from the female gaze, and one that also happens to be a great film in it’s own right. It would be a real shame if you do not watch this movie. You would definitely be missing out.