2015 Film Essays

The Dueling Cavalier: ‘Magic Mike XXL’ is the Most Progressive Hollywood Movie in Ages (and It’s a Total Blast!)

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Add this to the chorus of hosannahs for Magic Mike XXX — not only is it the most fun I’ve had at a movie in recent memory, but I can’t remember the last time a Hollywood blockbuster felt equally forward-thinking on issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Watching the diverse group of men in its ensemble gyrate, croon, and mime ejaculation — all in the interest of pleasing women — makes for a moviegoing experience which probably shouldn’t feel quite as revolutionary as it does in the 21st century, but it absolutely does feel that way given what the 21st century has looked like thus far. There’s been a long overdue feminine presence in Hollywood recently thanks to films like Inside Out, Spy, and Mad Max: Fury Road, but none of them have seemed as singularly concerned with female happiness.

In addition to setting the film apart from the current slate of blockbusters, its concerns also put Magic Mike XXL (at least) a cut above its predecessor. The first movie was interesting for the same reason Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids was: it took a tired genre (the “hooker with a heart of gold” plot for Magic Mike, and the “coming-of-age romantic comedy” beaten to death by Judd Apatow for Feig’s film) and made it fresh by gender-swapping the protagonists. What results (in both cases) is a perfectly enjoyable film, even if it’s one whose formula is only barely hidden beneath its role reversals.

Contrastingly, Magic Mike XXL performs a sneak attack on the typically male-dominated “hang-out movie” by making the “hanging out” all about satisfying women. Mike and his buddies travel up the southern East Coast as a way to give their male bonding one last hurrah before heading into the grown-up world of pursuing dreams and (gasp!) watching Downton Abbey, but their journey is entirely dedicated to making women happy. The film subverts the genre not through who it depicts (in the vein of the first Magic Mike or Bridesmaids), but why it’s depicting them. In making female concerns central to what little narrative it has, Magic Mike XXL makes for an important step forward built on the (not-to-be-diminished) groundwork laid by Steven Soderbergh and Feig.

If I’m making the film sound like a homework assignment designed by a misguided Tumblr user, the experience of watching it is quite the opposite. It’s been nearly 24 hours since I saw it, and I still can’t decide if Richie’s Cheeto splattering routine to the tune of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” is my favorite moment. Or maybe it’s Ken’s sensual belting of D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” filmed through a series of gorgeous long takes aided by the talents of Soderbergh (serving pseudonymously as director of photography and editor). Most likely, it’s the high-fiving mirror sex routine from Mike and Malik which lends the film its, um, climax, but the fact that the scene even has competition is a testament to how entertaining Magic Mike XXL continues to be throughout its running time. 

On the flip side, the entertainment value never gets in the way of the politics, which feel like a downright revelation. The most pointed moment comes from Andre’s monologue in the car about giving women what they want, but Rome’s insistence on referring to her clients as “queens” makes her message clear, particularly in contrast with Dallas’ “hey ladies” rhetoric in the first movie (which, in all fairness, probably isn’t aided by the shadow of Matthew McConaughey’s “That’s what I love about these high school girls” past). She’s matched by the guys’ interaction with Nancy and her fellow aging southern belles, in which the strippers do their best to make up for what the women have been missing from their husbands.

As all of these scenes make clear, this is a movie for women — and it’s about time. New York Times critic A.O. Scott describes his feeling of “a twinge of envy or shame at the display of chiseled pecs and sculpted quads,” but his sentiments are no different from what countless images from Cosmo and its ilk have been evoking in young women worldwide for centuries. In turning the table on objectification, Magic Mike XXL also becomes a summer movie for the time capsule. Alright, alright, alright.

Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.

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