Originally posted on Bullets & Bloodshed July 15, 2015
written by Jimmy Weber
Preface: After a second viewing of Magic Mike XXL, I was going to write about why it’s one of my favorite sequels and then list all of my other favorite sequels or something. But after writing 1500 words about why I think Magic Mike is amazing and why Magic Mike XXL is a masterpiece, I decided to just make it a love letter to two of my favorite recent flicks. Besides, this finally gives me a reason to riddle my blog with my favorite Magic Mike imagery. So without further ado, here’s why I absolutely LOVE the Magic Mike movies. Be warned…I get really hyperbolic and speak of them the way some people talk about 8 ½ or Citizen Kane.
After a second viewing of Magic Mike XXL, I can officially say it is one of my favorite movies ever made. As someone who loves making nihilistic horror films where everyone dies at the end, movies like Magic Mike XXL are a tall glass of water on a hot day. It’s genuinely kind hearted, hilarious, unique and just plain fun. Few films are this much fun. There are no stakes. There are no bad guys. There’s barely any conflict. We’re just on a road trip with a bunch of fun characters and Mike wants to make sure all of them are “good.” Seriously. “You good, man?” “Are we good?” He’ll ask. When Magic Mike sees someone is bummed out, he makes it his duty to make them feel better. Whether that involves going over your Fro-Yo business numbers on the way back from Myrtle Beach or sticking his face in your crotch while he’s doing a handstand, if you need a cheering up sesh, Mike is your man. How awesome is that?
What also makes Magic Mike XXL awesome is the fact that it may be superior to the already over-achieving Magic Mike. Who would have thought that movie was going to be as good as it is? (Answer: Any mature adult who has seen a Channing Tatum movie and knew Steven Soderbergh was making it. Also, me.) But for reals, anyone who can see past the “taboo” subject matter can easily acknowledge Magic Mike is a genuinely great film. Even if it’s not “great” you can’t say it’s not GOOD. That’d be like saying “Through the Dark” or “Story of My Life” aren’t great songs simply because a boy band sings them. Magic Mike has the refined sophistication yet edgy style of Steven Soderbergh, the undeniable charm of Channing Tatum and a Once-In-A-Lifetime performance by Matthew McConaughey.
In the span of just two years, Matthew McConaughey had a lead role in The Dallas Buyer’s Club, True Detective, and Magic Mike (and don’t forget his small, but iconic part in The Wolf of Wall Street). Some of the world’s greatest actors are known for a single role. For example, name your favorite Sir Anthony Hopkins character who doesn’t drink Chianti. McConaughey had three career-defining roles in just two years, one of which earned him an Oscar. But any true cinema lover knows Dallas in Magic Mike (not the buyer’s club) was McConaughey’s dream role and he put every drop of blood, sweat and sex he had into that performance. This was the role he was simply born to play. As a guy who became a walking caricature of himself by making a bunch of (awesome) Kate Hudson rom-coms minus his shirt, McConaughey burst back into the serious acting game playing the exact stereotype he created. And he did it marvelously. In ten years, we’ll look back and realize he should have at least snagged a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical/Comedy. But that’s lame awards show talk. Moving on…
The thing about Magic Mike is it’s a real movie and that’s not what people were expecting. I think most people expected a cross between Showgirls, Caligula and Step Up 2: The Streets. I have weird tastes, so that sounds like the greatest movie ever made, but that’s still not what Magic Mike is and it surprised a lot of people. What people were expecting was Rambo: First Blood Part II, but what they got was First Blood - a serious movie that’s actually good. Again, it’s a Steven Soderbergh movie, what were you expecting? But that’s the thing. It’s just a genuinely good movie. Not much more, but victoriously and admirably, nothing less.
And that’s why XXL is on another level. Not only is it a genuinely good movie like Magic Mike, but it’s truly unique. As a lot of reviews have pointed out (this one being my favorite) it’s one of the rare sequels that takes the best elements from the first movie and amplifies them. You liked the fun characters from the first one? Now you can hang out with them on a road trip! You didn’t like the stereotypical descent-into-drug-addiction storyline? Now we have the funniest fucked-up-on-Molly scene to date! You like Channing Tatum? Now we have tWitch, the black Channing Tatum literally doing a “mirror dance” with Channing Tatum.
But what it amplified the most is the totally bonkers and endlessly fascinating lives of male stripp-- entertainers. These guys don’t do it for the money and they don’t do it for the sex. They do it because they want to make women feel good about themselves (remember, Magic Mike is seriously concerned about this shit). The first stop on their road trip is a hole-in-the-wall drag bar. Manly guys like Channing Tatum and Joe Manganiello don’t go to drag queen shows! I mean, shit, Joe Manganiello’s character is named Big Dick Richie and has ‘MAN’ in his actual last name. The only way you see Ari and the Entourage boys in a place like this is after Drama says, “Sorry bro! I totally thought this place had chicks!” But in XXL, on the first stop of the road trip, the Kings of Tampa sit in the front row and eagerly watch the show. After each performer, they take a drink and applaud the Queen on stage. And the second they are challenged to come on stage, they storm the show and each one performs his own little RuPaul-meets-Vogue number. Leave your masculinity/homophobia shit at the door. These guys are in it to win it. All day. Every day.
And it only gets better from there. Every scene is better than the one before it. Each scene is so god damned satisfying in one way or another, it’s impossible to watch this movie without a smile on your face from start to finish. I mean, there is literally a scene where Joe Manganiello strips at a gas station just to make a stranger smile. It may be my favorite scene ever dedicated to film. When she smiles, it’s over. He doesn’t get her number. He doesn’t have sex with her. He made her smile and that’s all he wanted. He even pays for the god damned Cheetos and Water he uses in his routine!!!
In fact, that’s one of my favorite things about XXL. By my count, only Tito and Big Dick Richie actually have sex in this movie. Tito hooks up with a girl at the first beach party. She writes her number on his hip and says “If it’s meant to be, call me before it fades.” He gushes to the guys like a schoolgirl “She lives in Charleston and it’s right on the way. Maybe it is meant to be.” He doesn’t joke about how lame she was in the sack. He doesn’t kiss and tell. He’s talking about how he can’t wait to see her again! Meanwhile, Big Dick Richie is bummed because he can’t find a woman who isn’t afraid of his giant dick. “That’s a blessing and a curse,” Mike jokes. But this really bums Richie out! He’s tired of meaningless blow jobs and hand jobs. He wants true love! They start referring to Mrs. Right as “The Glass Slipper.” And when he finally does find his glass slipper, he seems genuinely happy, excited and IN LOVE. What universe did this movie come from?! Where can I hang out with guys like this?!
From the aforementioned leads to the panicking-in-real-life background extras, every performance in XXL is pitch perfect. Tarzan, played brilliantly by Kevin Nash, joins R2D2, T-800, Wall-E and Groot as “most lovable character with the fewest lines.” This isn’t much of a spoiler, but Gabriel Iglesias kinda drops out of the movie halfway through and thankfully so. You can’t take your eyes off this guy when he’s onscreen. That’s right, you’ve got Tatum, Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez prancing around in G-strings and you can’t look away from Gabriel Iglesias??? That’s because he plays the always-not-sober character just trying to keep his eyes open and he does it masterfully. There’s a scene where he doesn’t say a word, yet the audience at both of my screenings were doubled over with laughter.
So now that we’ve thoroughly discussed the numerous reasons why these movies are so genuinely good, let’s get to the good shit:
If you’re going to spend a lot of time making a genuinely great movie about stripping, you might as well have some fucking awesome stripping scenes, right? Magic Mike had some World Class stripping scenes. Landmark scenes that set the bar for all imitators to follow. But as a connoisseur of dance movies, I can say with confidence XXL is in a league of it’s own. Not in a “it destroys all other competition” sort of way, but in a “there’s nothing else like it” way. Allow me to explain…
Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up: Revolution easily have the best cinematography and some of the best choreography in the entire Dance Movie genre. Those movies are works of art. I’ve seen both at least five times each, so I’m pretty familiar with them. Each jaw-dropping choreographed dance move is punctuated and emphasized with an equally flashy camera move. If a dude is busting out kick ass footwork, we see his feet. If he’s a B-Boy spinning on his head, we’re birdseye and seeing how impressive this move is. The shit these guys do in XXL is just as astonishingly athletic as the Step Up films, but it’s presented in such a refined, effortless way.
The first dance scene in the film (a solo sequence with Mike in his shop, teased in the trailers) has one of the craziest moves I’ve ever seen. Mike spins round and round, kneeling on top of a stool, traversing at least 10 feet across the floor, then kicks the stool out from under him, jumps off of it and onto his work bench. It’s all done in a single wide shot with the stool barely in frame. If this was a Step Up film, this sequence would have been three distinct shots, cut to the beat, illustrating the physical miracle Channing Tatum just performed in front of our eyes. In XXL, it’s “Pssh…we’ve got a lot more where that came from…” And they do.
When the Kings find themselves in the surreal, male-stripper Neverland known as “Rome,” Mike is forced to strip to win back the trust of an old Madam/lover (don’t act like this hasn’t happened to you). During that scene, Channing Tatum spins a girl in the air and wraps her legs around his face. He then does a kinda cartwheel thing where he sits her on a chair, but ends up in a handstand position on the chair she’s sitting in. He then poses in multiple positions in mid air, all while doing a handstand on a fucking chair with his head in a woman’s crotch. If this whole thing didn’t happen in a single take, with Mike instantly flipping to his feet and crushing his next move in a crowd of ladies, you’d NEVER believe that Channing Tatum actually did this. But he did! Because he’s fucking amazing! And so is this god damn movie!
During the epic Myrtle Beach stripper finale, Big Dick Richie’s presentation nearly steals the show. Not only is it genuinely entertaining to watch and seems quite fun to be a part of (dancer or girl), it’s filmed in such a fucking awesome way. In one shot, Richie picks up the girl, takes her on stage, straps her to a sex device and starts gyrating on top of her. The camera booms high into the sky above the makeshift device and swings back down to earth, right on beat with Nine Inch Nails “Closer.” This camera move matched with the music and action gave me more chills than seeing The Avengers fully assembled for the first time.
As much as I hate acknowledging it, one day age will catch up to Channing Tatum and he won’t be America’s hunk anymore. But we’ll always have XXL and we should appreciate that. Lebron James has never been in the Slam Dunk contest. That’s right, he might go down as the greatest basketball player to ever live, but we’ll never know the magic he could have created in the Dunk competition. Even though Lebron regularly wows the crowd during warmups with spectacular, contest-worthy dunks, it’s just not the same. Some of history’s biggest stars and greatest dunkers have been in the Slam Dunk contest. Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant all duked it out in the greatest spectacle in professional sports. Even the great, yet persnickety Michael Jordan knew the importance of the contest. If anyone could sit out of that event and still go down as the greatest dunker ever, it would be Air-freaking-Jordan. But he knew if he wanted to truly be the G.O.A.T. he needed to hoist a Dunk Contest trophy above his head. But not Lebron. At 30 years old and past his dunking prime, even if he participated in the event this year (which he won’t) it wouldn’t be the same.
Thankfully for us, we’ll never have to say this about Channing Tatum. Yes, he was in Step Up, but that franchise didn’t become a true dance series until Step Up 2: The Streets. Yes, he had an amazing cameo and (a single) dance number in Step Up 2: The Streets, but he wasn’t the lead. This may seem nitpicky or semantics but it’s the truth. Before XXL, we never truly got to see what Channing Tatum could really do. All of history’s greatest dancers have had a movie to fully showcase their abilities. Swayze had Dirty Dancing. Travolta had Saturday Night Fever. But Step Up and Magic Mike were Tatum’s warmup dunks that simply wowed the crowd. He needed to hoist the Dunk Contest trophy above his head in order to be the best and that’s exactly what he did with XXL. Tatum may never dance on film again. I hope he dances in every movie he’s in going forward. But if he doesn’t, we’ll always have XXL. There are moves in this film guys will imitate for years, but it won’t be the same. Look how many basketball players stick out their tongue while dunking, but are they better than Air Jordan? No one will top Magic fucking Mike.
When XXL ends and we see a montage of the Kings bonding and laughing and watching fireworks as their adventure comes to an end, that’s when you realize XXL is truly special. The love interests are nowhere to be found because they were never love interests to begin with. This movie isn’t about defeating the bad guy, saving the day and winning the girl at the end. As male entertainers, the only thing the Kings of Tampa want to do is make the audience smile and XXL has the same objective. At the end of the day, it’s actually a movie about finding out who you really are and celebrating that. This movie knows exactly what it is and it celebrates it with every frame.
All Magic Mike cares about is whether or not we're “good.”
I’m totally good Mike. Couldn’t be better. Thanks bud xoxo