Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed, surprisingly deep film about a male stripper with a heart of gold, is not like its predecessor. The first Magic Mike was adept at packaging messages about corporate America and the falseness of the American Dream behind all those rock-hard abs. Meanwhile, Magic Mike XXL completely surrenders to the bachelorette party fun that drew audiences to the original without disparaging this audience. This is a sequel that fully commits to the idea that it’s okay for women to go see a movie solely because sexy guys are in it.
It’s not a particularly great movie by any means. Pretending that Magic Mike XXL is anything but cinema of the spectacle is laughable. There’s a tenuous sort-of plot that hinges on Mike being a bit bored of carpentry three years into retiring from stripping, and embarks on some sort of “last hurrah” in Florida with his old Xquisite buddies. Flat tires, cell phones thrown out of windows, a cobbled-together romance, and other wacky hi-jinks ensue. But overall, it’s an important step forward for the mainstream acceptance of female desire towards dudes on screen.
The film’s central cast, who are road-tripping across America on the way to a male stripper convention, is unsurprisingly almost all male. But there’s a lot of women in Magic Mike XXL and they’re the receivers of all this gyrating, muscle-y joy. This audience is comprised of women of all sizes, races, ages and sexualities, and this goes for the women guiding these audiences too. A bisexual woman of colour (Jada Pinkett Smith) runs a strip club that’s like a sexy fantasy land for other women, all of whom she calls “queens” in such a genuine way. A middle-aged Southern mom with marital issues (Andie McDowell) gets to embrace her neglected sexuality with honesty and gusto alongside a few equally forcibly-reserved female friends. A young female photographer (Amber Heard) learns to let go of the men who treated her wrongly, sexually and emotionally, and accepts lust (and maybe love) from guys who actually want to do the opposite. And the great news is, Mike and his bros never demean or insult their customers, and neither does the film. These guys would rather pull women up on stage to interact with them and, moreover, satisfy (or as Donald Glover’s new character, a rapping “male entertainer” says, “heal”) them, and they’re having a total blast doing it.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not only the female characters whose feelings and desires are respected in this film. Not one of the male protagonists is reduced to being just a sexy bag of meat. These are real people with feelings and dreams, and the film is never afraid to explore the surprising sweetness of male friendships. It’s something rarely seen in mainstream Hollywood blockbusters unless it’s played for laughs. We tend to forget that patriarchy hurts men too, and it’s what tells them that it’s not cool to be a sensitive, thoughtful guy who pays attention to a woman’s needs … or that a movie about male strippers could have nothing for them.
I don’t want to put forth the idea that stripping, like many facets of sex work, isn’t rife with various issues and injustices towards its workers. I’m also not going to pretend that this depiction of 100 per cent straightness (love that these guys are so happy to party with drag queens, though!) is what all women want, or that 50 Shades of Grey was hot enough to have its own stripping routine (Joe Mangeniello’s Big Dick Richie definitely does something of that colour at the stripper convention). But it’s nice to see a film where sex work isn’t derided or demonized, where it’s reduced to its purest form: giving and receiving pleasure, especially when everyone is totally on board with that giving and receiving.
Hey, consent is sexy!