By Kyle G. King. Cry baby meninists tend to make silly claims that feminism has infiltrated Hollywood. But if you’re truly registering the subject matter within decades of Hollywood films (and if you’re not a brainless nitwit), it should come as no big surprise that movie studios make scripts that appeal predominantly to male fan bases. There’s a sexist belief that lingers from the 60’s that it is men who take women to the movies, so marketing should appeal to the gender hoisting ticket sales, not the women who’ll be coming along anyway (yuck, I wanted to vomit just bringing that up). Fortunately more and more Hollywood features within the past thirty years have grown less concerned with only appealing to men. And no movie has made such an effort to appeal less to the hetero-male gaze more than Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike, which saw the release of its sequel last week with Magic Mike XXL.
In 2012, Magic Mike brought together screenwriter Reid Carolin, mega-director Steven Soderbergh, and producer/leading star Channing Tatum for a saga loosely based on the true events of Tatum’s time as a male stripper in Tampa, Florida. While it provided a fantastic arena to showcase Tatum’s dances moves (and near-naked body), it also spotlighted a deeper look into a gritty, dark side of male entertainment. Magic Mike XXL has Soderbergh stepping back as director — he serves under pseudonyms as both cinematographer and editor, with longtime AD Gregory Jacobs taking the director chair — with a script penned once again by Tatum’s longtime collaborator Reid Carolin. The group in front of the camera remains familiar too, as Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) and Mike (Tatum) all return for a “last ride” to the illustrious stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (and yes, that’s a real thing).
Set three years after Mike walked out on his half-naked cohorts to be with the woman he was sorta kindling a romance with, Mike finds himself single (Cody Horn does not return) and the self-proclaimed Kings of Tampa find themselves down a few performers (Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey are also out). But even with a slimmer cast, the script does well to focus on the ensemble of male entertainers that were mere peripherals of the first film. Once Mike has a calling to return to the pole — in a remarkable dance sequence set to Ginuwine’s “Pony” that warms the audience up for the swagger to come — he crowds into the back of Tito’s food truck where the six men are forced to confront each other and themselves in an unfiltered saga of brotherly love.
But where Soderbergh’s take was about how stripping was holding Mike back for the sake of lots and lots of money, Magic Mike XXL is a classic road trip movie that’s concerned much more with how much damn fun dancing on stage for money can be. And while its predecessor was a far more straight, predominantly white display of finely sculpted male bodies, the sequel equips supporting LGBTQ characters (with a cameo from drag performer Vicky Vox) and a much broader appeal of race. A stop along the way makes room for a fantastic long-take sequence with dances from a near naked Michael Strahan, Stephen Boss (aka tWitch), and Donald Glover that tells the pale boys from Florida they need to elevate their game if they want to be taken seriously. Mike revisits feelings with the club’s emcee Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith dominating a role originally written for a man) as he vies for her hosting talents on their trip to Myrtle beach.
Yet another refreshing character development is XXL’s depiction of its sex-positive female characters, who act as empowered guides for the central male cast. The sexual dichotomy between Amber Heard and Tatum — while certainly charged it remains platonic — never once panders to the standard phoned-in romance you’d expect from a Hollywood feature of this genre. Rome, as the queen of her domain, refers to her female guests as queens themselves as she introduces her company of ebony entertainers. Along with cameos from Elizabeth Banks as the convention’s director and Andie MacDowell as a surprised host, XXL is a great stride forward from the screaming masses of nameless females from the first film (and Hollywood altogether).
While the term “feminist movie” has been foolishly thrown around the past year in a severely misguided way, Magic Mike XXL is much more a movie about progressive male characters that respect women on screen. It’s not quite award winning material but it delivers a great time with smart choices to distinguish it. Ladies, don’t just see it yourselves; bring all the men with you, both to show them how they should be treating you, and to stick it to those misogynist studio-heads who once wouldn’t dare appeal to you before.