Soon after his rendezvous with hardware, Mike joins his bros on the road to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach where they later perform, and that’s literally all that happens! It’s brutally simple and the bros take stops on the way at different demographics: first a LGBT-drag bar, then an African-American private club in Georgia, then a Southern mansion filled with divorced cougars. Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh and released during the 2012 summer, told the tale of these young male strippers fighting against economic anxiety and contested aspiration against exploitation using vividly colored bacchanals and Matthew McConaughey as a ringleader who stood between Mike and his dreams. XXL strips all of that to just man-thongs, sweat-glistening abs, and backwards caps to become the hypersexual spectacle of the summer, and it’s not a problem. Scenes like Big Dick Richie’s (Joe Manganiello) gas station convenience store seduction with his bros cheering him on or Augustus’s (Michael Strahan) massage therapy tease as he straddles a female customer are undeniable fun and produce a feel-good concoction of sexy and silly.
It’s amazing that a movie like XXL can get so indulgent in sexual matters without showing any on-screen sex. The final sequence with Mike and boring love interest Zoe (Amber Heard) plays out like a progression of softcore porn Tumblr gifs soundtracked to Nine Inch Nails and the absence of McConaughey only allows the guys to get even naughtier than before. With how essential McConaughey was in the first, I was afraid his lack of presence would prove fatal, but XXL adds Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks, and Andie MacDowell as these kind of female leaders that add a royal flair to a male-actor-dominated movie. And it’s truly skillful how despite this straight male dominance, XXL proves to be so ruthlessly entertaining for women and gay men. Mike and the boys do overstate how women “are queens” and “deserve better”, with even this one scene that feels so unnatural because a car full of guys are talking about how other guys don’t treat girls right, but it’s really how they feel. These are male entertainers who aim to please and genuinely get excited about performing in front of 800 women at a stripper convention.
With no concrete conflict and dollar bills that fly around like butterflies, Magic Mike XXL is a fantasyworld of unsullied happiness. It’s not at all subtle about who it’s trying to please and these traveling bros set aside their individual problems of getting older or finding true love to creatively entertain audiences with BDSM-influenced props, whipped cream showers, and earnest covers of D’Angelo songs. XXL conceives fluttering enjoyment from an underrated, middle-class industry and delivers an essential element of cinema that’s hard to find these days: magic.