In the wake of the rising juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe - and comic-book adaptations in general - sequels are increasingly being seen as an inevitability to every successful film to grace the silver screen. Sequels are, for want of a better term, and as Joss Whedon could probably attest, extremely fickle beasts. As such, they are extremely difficult to tame. The expectation is typically to go bigger, bolder, and better. Such is an expectation, as not-so-subtly referenced in the title, that 'Magic Mike XXL' is determined to live up to.
The lights are brighter. The music is louder. And the abs are firmer and infinitely more oiled.
Therein lies the film's biggest issue. Equal to the bigger, bolder, better mantra, the stripping is, whilst not any more risqué, a lot more prevalent. It will no doubt be divisive in its reception, with the majority of people - most likely men - turned off by the more frequent display of male flesh. The semi-nudity, however, isn't so much the issue, paling in comparison to the amount of nudity usually gracing screens both big and small in this day and age. The problem is that the stripping scenes have moved towards being the core of the story. Where, in the first film, Mike was a person first and a stripper second, the reverse feels very much true in this time around. Though the routines are more elaborate, and Channing's dance-moves as technically brilliant as ever, stripping feels almost like the point this time, like the defining characteristic. More often than not, the stripping scenes go on far too long, and grants the interim scenes the task of justifying the bump-and-grind and an unfortunate aura of padding.
Thankfully, the magic still very much lingers within Channing Tatum, navigating his world with an air of effortless panache, maintaining the charm, compassion and wit from the first film. Serving to support, encourage, unite and uplift those around him - be it helping new love interest Zoe (Amber Heard) rediscover her smile, healing old wounds with old-flame Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), or pushing his fellow "male entertainers" to find their personal bliss at the heart of their performances.
Receiving more screen-time and dialogue in ten minutes than they probably were blessed with in the entirety of the first film, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) serve as companions on Mike's whistle-stop tour to former glory. It's a change that's as hit-or-miss as their respective dancing abilities. Though all elevated to having distinct personalities, giving voice to hopes and regrets, it doesn't always click as well as intended, often coming so out of the blue that it serves to disrupt the tone rather than add heart to the respective moments. Truly, it's only really Matt Bomer as Ken that manages to provoke a desired level of sympathy from the upgraded supporting roles, as he copes with a loss and tries to channel that energy into something positive.
The more comedic exploits fare much better. Most notably in the case of of Joe Manganiello who, as Richie, is blessed with the majority of the film's most laugh-out-loud lines and moments. As well as delivering no doubt the film's highlight when he attempts to prove that shopping and seduction aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Portrayed without a shred of true vanity and a carefree attitude, it's impossible not to like and cheer for him.
If Magic Mike was almost a coming of age tale, then 'Magic Mike XXL' is most definitely a mid-life crisis. But, thankfully, one very much done in well-choreographed, occasionally hilarious, and still thoroughly entertaining style.
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