Magic Mike XXL is, as you might have gleaned, a movie about male strippers. But, remarkably, majestically, miraculously, that’s it. It’s not a movie about male strippers who…, or about men who strip until…, or about men who have to strip in order to…. This movie is, front to back, about men stripping. In this day and age of cynical and concept-heavy cinema, the male strippers of Magic Mike XXL provide us with a film that transcends those negative bounds with the gift of its simplicity.
While this summer movie season’s previous releases have left us inclined to anticipate a male stripper movie doubling as a critique of the contemporary blockbuster slate (like some sort of saucy Jurassic World), or offering an allegory about the onslaught of depression (like an R-rated Inside Out), or inciting a conversation about female empowerment (like a slightly less prone-to-dismemberment Mad Max: Fury Road), what we have instead is a male stripper movie about beautiful men elegantly disrobing.
Just as exotic as the nature of the fellows’ dance routines might be deemed is the species of the film in its own right: a movie so decidedly simple that it’s nigh impossible to accept in this era of multitier think pieces. That’s not to say that Magic Mike XXL isn’t prone to inspire a few of those.
Yes, you can use the uncannily, sweetly simple Channing Tatum picture as a conduit to the castigation of concept-heavy contemporary blockbuster cinema; you can plug its message about the benevolence in giving people exactly what they want into an understanding about the human brain’s search for emotional balance; you can draw from its unprecedented positivity in the realms of gender, race, and body image to fuel a conversation about female (and other sorts of) empowerment.
But, in truth, these are more accurately called results of Magic Mike XXL than they are actions of it. Excepting some express dialogue about the merit in simply asking women what they want, nothing in the Gregory Jacobs-directed sequel rings as a “choice.” The movie isn’t formless and conflict-free as some kind of anarchic rejection of the industry standard, but because of the freedom of spirit innate in a movie about dance. Jada Pinkett Smith’s character doesn’t seem to espouse empowering language about the female identity as a response to the misogyny corroding Magic Mike XXL’s studio company, but because it’s a mentality that sprouts organically from her.
That we even feel inclined to look for a reason why a movie might be female-positive does say a bit about today’s film industry, but Magic Mike XXL doesn’t need us to have that conversation. Of course, we might feel the need to have it after seeing the vividly pro-women picture. And perhaps we should. But unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike XXL isn’t demanding we talk about anything. It doesn’t need us to get angry about the sour state of other films; it is perfectly content keeping us, well, perfectly content with the saccharine state of its own.
Thus, we have the most impressive of Magic Mike XXL’s many achievements: its absolute vacancy of cynicism. Coursing through the good films and bad of 2015 and the years preceding is that ubiquitous cynical undercurrent. It works both for good and the evil, but neither variant makes the cut in Magic Mike XXL, a movie that is as gleefully chipper just to have been shot and produced. If there is a subtext to the movie living beneath some majestically choreographed sequences of garment shedding, it’s tied into the power of good vibes. Saying nice things, doing nice things. Consideration, camaraderie. Smiles.
It delivers this through profoundly emphatic dance numbers, through gentle mumbly rap sessions, through professions of dreams big and small, through no small sum of instances in which one friend tells another how much he loves him, and through compliments paid to people who don’t seem to have heard them in quite some time. Through all these methods does Magic Mike XXL achieve, in universe and out, its greatest goal. And the level of devotion it lends to this antic is damn near otherworldly.
Without a morsel of irony is Magic Mike XXL about the wonder of making somebody smile, and of smiling yourself. Now, can you think of a single recent movie — be it about dinosaur theme parks or desert adventures or animated feelings — that’s anywhere close to that uncynical?
Images: Warner Bros. (4)