Review: Magic Mike XXL Unabashedly Appeals To The Female Gaze
Title: Magic Mike XXL
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Screenwriter: Reid Carolin (written by and characters)
Principal Cast Channing Tatum, Juan Piedrahita, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, Amber Heard, and Jada Pinkett Smith
Summary: Three years after Mike bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.
This has been a strange year to be a critic. There have always been movies that make me get my “feminist hat” out, but the one’s that do are not what I expected. Mad Max: Fury Road was not the movie I expected it to be and I will stand by any comments about Avengers: Age of Ultron not treating Black Widow as well as they should. This has been another surprising week as the original Magic Mike was one of those movies that was a lot better than it had any right to be. The screening I was in for, Magic Mike XXL, was packed with women who were very excited about this movie; it was a little awkward.
Magic Mike XXL is another entry in the rare genre of movies that appeals directly to the female gaze, unabashedly.
I would like to make the note here that when I say “female gaze” I also include anyone who finds men attractive whether they are gay, straight or trans, but it’s just much easier to call it the “female gaze” and “male gaze” for explanation purposes. In this case we have a movie that is appealing directly to the female gaze in a way that we so rarely see. There is a difference between “objectification” and “idealization” when it comes to the portrayal of men and women in media. There is an argument that, most of the time, men in media are idealized while women are objectified. When a male character takes his shirt off in most movies it’s not for the women in the audience to enjoy but for the men in the audience to idealize to be. That’s why the “we’re all equally objectified” argument against sexism falls on its face.
Magic Mike XXL, however, takes that and turns it on its head. In this movie the men are blatantly objectified for the female gaze to the point where they are objectified. I don’t really like objectification, I think reducing a person to a thing is not a healthy viewpoint, but there are so few movies that take this point of view that I feel like I can excuse it for the sake of something different. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to objectify people but, for the sake of entertainment, it’s enjoyable to see the roles reversed in such a pandering way.
Much like the first movie Magic Mike XXL is also much better than it has any right to be. I think I’d like to see it again with a crowd that wasn’t convinced we were actually in a strip club since the second hand embarrassment was very strong. Once I was able to ignore that, the movie is really much more like a “last hurrah” buddy road trip movie. There is the undercurrent of getting older and being broken that humanizes these men that are so perfectly built you’d think they weren’t human. The entire cast is completely game for this insanity, but if I had to pick out someone who stood out it was Joe Manganiello. His character is so over the top and he goes for broke every second. There is also a nice little call out to his role on True Blood that I’m not sure everyone will get.
There are few roles that didn’t entirely work for me. Amber Heard is on hand as a photographer that the boys meet early on, and she seems to turn up in the strangest places for no real reason. I think she was supposed to be a love interest for Channing Tatum’s Mike but they never really go anywhere with it. There are a few side characters that are abandoned for no real reason, and the fact that they are going to a convention and not a competition kind of kills any sense of urgency. The dancing for the final number, however, is well done and appeal to each character’s interest. The only other nitpick really comes down to the movie not being well shot and the sound being a little off. I’m not sure if that was our screening, but there were moments that were too dark with strange composition.
Magic Mike XXL is a movie that if you want to see it you’ve already decided you want to go and will go, but for what my opinion is worth I thought it was pretty good. The skin on hand will appeal to those who go looking for that sort of thing, but the rest of the movie holds up about as well as the first one.