“It feels like the first time,” Foreigner sang over the closing credits of Magic Mike back in 2012, “like we’ve opened up the door”. And boy, did that movie, to a frisky new franchise that’s both a prototypical product of today’s studio system and an all-too rare example of the various angles it often opts to ignore. Explicitly catering to the same mass multiplex audience each year’s slate of straight male fantasies leaves wanting, Magic Mike XXL is an orgastic and ecstatic indulgence in fan service of a demographic that’s long been left waiting. They’ll likely find it’s been worth it: this is nothing shy of an oiled-up offering to its target market, a glittering and grinding gift of blockbuster booty.”
It is, in the vein of any modern studio sequel, necessarily an escalation, albeit one whose upping of scale could scarcely comprise more of a dial-down of stakes. And that’s exactly why it works: gone here is the dramatic conflict of Steven Soderbergh’s original, gleefully replaced with an abundance of erotica that makes a fantasy of male flesh and a fundamental fixture of female sexuality. From the audaciously-choreographed “Pony”-revival that early (re)introduces Channing Tatum’s gyrating gymnastics to the third act extravaganza that is the stripper convention to which he and his newly-rejoined crew travel, this is cinema as sustained climax: the kind of night at the movies you spend your life reliving.
Or at least that’s how it feels as you struggle for breath while Alison Faulk’s extraordinary choreography unfolds before you: less the buddy bro road movie its inter-state establishment would have you believe it than an all-out old-school integrated musical whose set pieces might make Busby Berkeley blush, this Magic Mike is far more intent on pleasure than plot. And oh, does it know how to evoke it: assuming directorial reins from the retiring helmer whose AD he’s served as for decades, Gregory Jacobs smartly exploits Soderbergh’s return as editor and DP—hard to tell whether his usual pseudonyms, not here obligatory, are affectation or modesty in practice—for a film whose carefully-controlled carnal chaos is key to its enormous audience appeal.
And involvement, for that matter: where the first film typically traded on cherry-picked genre conventions for a canny consideration of capitalism in action, XXL instead takes cues from live event streaming; it’s not hard to see the movie as a mass stripper simulcast when Jada Pinkett-Smith’s McConaughey-succeeding MC walks the floor and addresses the crowd with such pronounced projection you almost expect her to wink at the camera. That this sequel should exploit the aspects that made its forebear such a staggering hit is an inevitability of the way these things work; that it does so in so determinedly direct and a manner is a refreshing reflection of the reality that, in a world ideal and not unimaginable, they can work for so many more.
None convey that better than Andie McDowell, whose scenery-guzzling turn as a Southern divorcée in the most intimate of the movie’s decidedly diverse string of sequences—let’s not even pretend it’s an actual narrative, eh?—trades on her part in Soderbergh’s own sex, lies, and videotape for an understated interplay of domesticity and sexuality, pleasures public and private. In enmeshing the two in a jubilant commodification-cum-celebration, Magic Mike XXL evokes in its audience a sweat-drenched shared experience to rival even its characters’ pill-popping interludes. Fronting the fun, and the flesh, and the fantasy, this Dubstep-decked dream of desire and fulfilment is a franchise finding what works, and working wonders with it. Much more of the same can be a marvellous thing when it’s just what you want.