Early into Magic Mike XXL, as the remaining crew from Steven Soderbergh’s first installment gear up to take on a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) looks to Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and squints, identifying him as the group’s sole “person of color.” Tito demurs, saying: “I think you mean two. You’re fucking Algerian, bro!” Richie retorts: “Armenian, asshole.” Immediately after, Richie pegs Ken (Matt Bomer) as a “snowy white Ken doll for all those good little Christian women…what more do you need?” This roll call is hardly exposition, but a primer for understanding the film’s entire conceptual foundation as a treatise on the function of color and mobility within contemporary American culture.
There’s an initial sadness to Magic Mike XXL, particularly in how director Gregory Jacobs forgoes introducing a superficial source of amusement. One might call the film’s beginning “slow” were it not retroactively clear how these quieter beats inform the spectacle to come. When Mike (Channing Tatum) removes his jacket after being tackled into a pool by Richie, he’s at the back of the frame, with a fifth of Jack Daniels positioned in the foreground, which would be product placement were the bottle not so out of focus. By placing Mike, the flesh-and-blood commodity, in juxtaposition with another shapely, though inanimate, figure, Jacobs operates visually, by way of jokey comparisons. In fact, that’s what makes Magic Mike XXL so innovative: It’s compositions are perpetually seeking ways to enmesh subjective pleasures within objective distance, where the camera passively, but euphorically, observes a gyrating, muscular form.
If Mike is initially mirrored by an outright product, he will finally be mirrored by Malik (Stephen “tWitch” Boss), who reigns as the homme du jour of a Savannah members-only club, overseen by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith). When Malik first appears, it’s at Mike’s knock, and the two exchange heated, if not exactly hostile, glances. The Savannah club is bathed in monochromatic reds; Malik dances in an unbroken take to “Sex You” by Bando Jonez, while Mike gets “Feel It” by Jacquees. The sequence is a tour de force of rhythmic editing and mobile, hard bodies, which are treated by the camera both as inviting and scary. In fact, as light bathes each of their buff bods while enraptured screams fly, the film is affective in a way that sticks in the gut. It quite literally takes your breath away due to the cuts, movement, and music, seeking a formal synthesis that remains paradoxically composed and ecstatic. The earlier quiet was simply calm before the storm, but this is a hurricane of calculated damage.
In Charleston, at another holdover, Mike encounters Zoe (Amber Heard) eating an entire red velvet cake. When offered some, Mike declines: “I’m a cookie guy. I’d take a pack of Oreos any day over that bullshit.” Cut to Myrtle Beach late in the film, where Mike and Malik are on opposite sides of a fake mirror, performing their choreographed movements to “Cookie” by R. Kelly—perhaps the most explicit track in American pop-music history regarding a particular oral fixation. But it’s the perfect anthem for Magic Mike XXL, a film that ferociously pleas for ownership of one’s body as the only inalienable form of self-respect, while also acknowledging the allure of unbridled consumption.
However, the film further suggests, desire must always be linked with history. Malik mirrors Mike, Mike mirrors Malik, but ultimately Mike is “white chocolate,” as Rome calls him, making him capable of the crossover that Malik simply couldn’t achieve. At least, historically speaking. That is, Magic Malik can play at a private club in Georgia, but Magic Mike XXL is the travelling roadshow. And, like the first film, the seemingly saccharine ending is actually bittersweet, because the terms of brotherhood and sexual autonomy remain foggy and only hopefully utopian. But there’s no mistaking that Magic Mike XXL has a utopian vision, as it seeks a point where shame passes, and the necessity for identity politics ends. In that sense, it’s the most openly humanist and liberal American film since Rachel Getting Married.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has given Magic Mike XXL an excellent transfer, which only heightens the impressively detailed and constructed stagings. Whereas the first film mostly shot the dances in static, head-on takes, this one jumps around, with a mobile camera capable of enlivening the scale of the dances. As such, color balancing is essential and this Blu-ray is up for the task. Reds and blues are remarkable, especially in the Savannah club, which is a smorgasbord of impeccably lit pectorals. There are no depth or clarity issues to report. Even better, the 5.1 DTS-HD mix is capable of rumbling your apartment walls, since the dance tracks have been given outrageous prominence by sound mixer Dennis Towns. It may require you to click the volume down a notch or two to avoid upsetting the neighbors, but aside from inevitable noise complaints, there’s nothing to quibble over here, since dialogue, too, is boisterous and strong.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros. hasn’t equipped this Blu-ray with the supplements it deserves. All we get is 10 minutes’ worth of featurettes, mostly devoted to Channing Tatum’s moves as devised in conjunction with choreographer Alison Faulk. A throwaway few minutes explain how the entire film was shot in Georgia, Steven Soderbergh’s former stomping ground. Finally, there’s an extended take of Malik’s first dance, which runs about four minutes.
With Warner Bros.’s immaculate Blu-ray transfer of Magic Mike XXL, you’re invited to indulge the film’s multitudinous pleasures without shame or judgment.