Jacobs gives us what we want to see in Magic Mike XXL, such as when the eponymous protagonist realises he wants to return to his old vocation – there’s almost a knowing glint in his eyes when he dances to Ginuwine’s Pony. A scene implemented for us, but done in such a way that it feels at home amidst this playful, effervescent production, complete with an endearing, tongue-in-cheek tone that gives the director an incredible degree of licence to simply have fun. Which, believe me, he takes.
Mike (Channing Tatum) gave up stripping to begin his own removal business and settle down – however when he receives a call from his former colleague Tarzan (Kevin Nash), a core member of the now Dallas-less Kings of Tampa, he decides to rejoin his old friends and give it one final shot – for their forthcoming performance at a convention in Myrtle Beach. Reunited with Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez), the troupe hit the road, encountering several people, both old and new, along the way – one of which is the elusive, free-spirited photographer Zoe (Amber Heard) and the hard-nosed entrepreneur Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith).
Magic Mike XXL lives up to its title, as the film is less nuanced and intimate as the previous offering, instead revelling far more predominantly in the big set pieces, as a more overt, unsubtle picture that thrives in such a capacity. There’s a unique structure to proceedings too, as this title is effectively split into four parts, with each like a short movie in its own right, as an episodic piece that still manages to maintain a sense of linearity. There are even a handful of scenes that have little bearing on the narrative at all, but are simply enjoyable and entertaining.
We’re not even building up towards an implicative finale in this endeavour – as it’s a convention, not a competition. In many ways, this sequel adds very little to the franchise from a narrative perspective. We don’t take this story further as such, but it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, when there are characters that you enjoy being in the company of, placed into an environment where they can interact in a comedic way, you merely enjoy being back in their presence, and as long as the screenplay is of a high standard, then it can be a worthwhile endeavour without the need for significant progression. In fact, some filmmakers can be accused of trying too hard to achieve just that in sequels, losing sight of what the audience loved about the initial picture in the process.
Magic Mike XXL does retain that same sense of charm however, and while Soderbergh isn’t on directing duties, he remains involved – as an executive producer, cinematographer and editor. So we still have his distinct sensibilities illuminating the screen, as he has such a remarkable ability to get beneath the facade of something that appears so glamorous on the outside. But like in Behind the Candelabra, he finds the human being within and manages to convey the seediness of it all, making it so real in the process. This isn’t quite that same level of seedy mind you, but then again, you don’t exactly leave thinking about how great it would be to forge a career in stripping. You do, however, appreciate that it would rather fun to be in the audience… What? It’s well choreographed, and it looks like fun night out. Okay?