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Does ‘Magic Mike XXL’ Know What Women What?

Does 'Magic Mike XXL' Know What Women What?

Magic Mike XXL” may be filled with muscled male bodies in skimpy thongs, but the most important line is spoken by a man who never gets naked below the waist. Donald Glover’s Andre may work in a strip club, and he clearly put in the crunches to develop the toned abs that peek out from beneath his blazer, but he makes his clients swoon by singing to them rather than thrusting his crotch in their faces. “All we got to do is ask them what they want,” he tells Channing Tatum’s Mike, “and when they tell you, it’s a beautiful thing.”

“XXL” proceeds from the imperative to give women what they want, dumping the original movie’s subtext in favor of a free-spirited road trip and plenty of good-natured gyration. “Magic Mike’s” Steven Soderbergh and Reid Carolin may have seen the first movie as dark-tinged story of showbiz compromise, but they’re clear on what turned it into an unexpected hit, and for the sequel — written again by Carolin, and directed by Soderbergh’s frequent collaborator Gregory Jacobs, with Soderbergh serving as (pseudonymous) cinematographer and editor — they’re out to please the largely female crowd. 

On Twitter, Glenn Kenny quipped that “Magic Mike XXL” is “doughy white middle-aged critic-proof.” Movies don’t need to be defined by their target audiences, and they’re certainly not limited to them, but given that “XXL” explicitly concerns itself with female pleasure, it’s worth examining just how well it gets the job done. So what do women critics want? The results aren’t what you might expect. If anything, female reviewers seem to be more down on “XXL” than their male peers, criticizing the sequel for its lack of substance — several compare it to porn, and not in a good way — or, alternatively, suggesting that it takes far too long to get to the good stuff. More than a quarter of Metacritic’s 38 reviews are written by women, but only half of those are even grudgingly positive, and only one scores above 70. While numerous male critics have hailed “XXL” for catering to female desires — one called it “revolutionary” — the women it’s aimed seem more appreciative than exhilarated. The Los Angeles Times’ Rebecca Keegan writes that, while it’s nice for female viewers to be pandered to once in a while, the movie doesn’t do much of a job of it: “Watching it was like opening the wrong gift — that’s not my size, and I don’t like blue, but thank you, Warner Bros., for even bothering to shop for me. Most of the other studios forgot my birthday.”

Women make up a minority of film critics (as little as 20 percent, depending on which study you trust), but outlets seem to have made a collectively effort to assign female reviewers in this case, and the result is a fascinating conversation about Hollywood’s relationship to female audiences, and how much further the industry has to go in really connecting with them. Hollywood wants to give women what they want, but it seems many women feel they’re still waiting to be asked what that is.

Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed

Rather than cash in with a sequel that’s an hour and a half of Tatum humping the floor, “Magic Mike XXL” gives the audience what it wants by ceding to the idea of female desire. It’s a fan service film about the concept of fan service. Its characters surrender their narrative arcs until the only throughlines are whether Richie will find a woman who can handle his immense manhood and whether the van they’re driving in will make it — but it doesn’t feel like laziness, it feels like refocusing. We’ve already seen the story of these men chasing their particular American dreams, and now we’re getting a look at what women are after in soliciting their services.

Sophie Monks Kaufman, Little White Lies

For anyone that forgot or didn’t know that Tatum was a professional dancer before becoming an A-list actor there is an early scene that will blow at least one part of your body. The glee of Mike’s precision-based moves is founded both in the fiery overtness of the sexual innuendoes and the fact that Tatum — a movie star at the peak of his powers — is willing to indulge the female and gay male gaze to the full extent of his skilful abilities. “Pony” by Ginuwine is a filthy track with beats so squelchy that you have to pull your body fully free of them after each drop. Tatum keeps those beats while doing his own wild, pirouetting dance of seduction.

Katie Rife, A.V. Club

Like an old Hollywood musical, “Magic Mike XXL” takes place in a universe close but parallel to our own, a fantasy realm where people randomly break out into song — or, in this case, breakdance-influenced dance numbers set to ’90s sex jams. That sounds ridiculous and fun, and it is, for a while. But the downside of all this fan service is that it makes the more focus-group-approved aspects of the film quite obvious. This entire movie is predicated on two truths: That women find Channing Tatum attractive, and that Channing Tatum can dance. “Magic Mike XXL” is a piece of arm candy, as shallow as a mud puddle and just as bright. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to hang out with.

Kristin Tillotsin, Minneapolis Star Tribune

You can’t tease everyone. Unfortunately, the hotly anticipated stripper sequel “Magic Mike XXL” tries to do just that, resulting in a Bud Light version of Steven Soderbergh’s original, surprise-hit home brew. By trying to appeal to young women, middle-aged moms, gay men and spring-break bros at the same time, the movie spreads itself too thin, filling time better spent on manly moves with too much talk and obvious demographic pandering. Jacobs should have dispensed with the sodden middle of his movie and skipped to this part halfway through. Guy candy is, after all, what its audience is after. 

Monica Castillo, International Business Times

There’s no character development, no threat or real sense of conflict. Hell, it’s not even clear why the boys are road tripping to a stripper’s convention other than an almost arbitrary deadline to the end of their careers. But who cares? This sequel, in a manner like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” dares to include women in its worldview and dignify them with the wants and needs so long denied them in mainstream media. It’s cute and dirty, and baby, “Magic Mike XXL” knows what it’s doing.

Amy Nicholson, L.A. Weekly

As for the men, they’ve been directed to ape Marilyn Monroe. They aren’t sexy with a grown man’s confidence, the way George Clooney can look at a woman like he’s picturing her without clothes. Instead, they’re daffy and insecure, almost innocent. “XXL” is a topless, sticky-wet movie where almost no one is having sex. The boys aren’t even grown up enough to say the word, preferring to ask, “Did you bangy?” They’re into the game for validation — can they make women swoon? — which boils over in a riotous scene where Manganiello, an exaggeration of male romance-novel beauty, nervously lampoons his own attractiveness in a Quik-E-Mart, pouring bottled water and Cheetos on his chest. Monroe on that subway grate would give him a thumbs-up.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

The returning Kings are endearingly game, and have clearly foregone carbs for our benefit (though it doesn’t help that with the exception of Tatum, they’re not exactly born dancers). Supporting players including Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell, and Elizabeth Banks have good fun with underwritten roles, and the movie’s take on desire is admirably democratic (Sex: it’s not just for hot millennials!). Still, for all the glistening, body-glittered beefcake, there’s not much meat on these bones. 

Stacey May Fowles, Globe and Mail

“Magic Mike XXL” conjures a very specific — and rare — kind of film fantasy, one where hard-bodied heterosexual males enjoy a genuine intimacy with each other, admire women for their feelings and intellect and have a nice time at a raucous drag bar without breaking into a brawl. At times, “Magic Mike XXL’s” mission to appeal to the needs and desires of women can feel heavy handed — I mean, Maya Angelou is quoted — but given the fact that not many movies even try, its hard to dismiss its earnestness. When the crew ends up at a house full of older women, the movie hammers home its respectful, “women are queens” messaging, not ridiculing the over-40 female characters like the kind of butt-of-the-joke cougars that are all too common on screen. It may be a meandering road trip movie about a group of emotive performers who fancy themselves therapists, but “Magic Mike XXL” is an ingenious revelation of a film — it’s designed for women yet steered by all-male leads, tapping into a best guess at women’s desires in a self-aware, sincere, entirely deliberate way.

Connie Ogle, Miami Herald

The rating system warns of strong sexual content and nudity, and those elements are present and accounted for, praise the Lord. But before you get to the good stuff — I mean the really good stuff — you have to sit through a lot of jabbering about stripper betrayal, plans for dance routines that reveal the soul of the man under the rip-away pants, the merits of operating a frozen yogurt food truck and how all a woman really needs is a night with an adult entertainer to get right with the world. That last part may be true, but if you’re going to make the argument, show, don’t tell.

Cath Clarke, Time Out

Male strippers — those baby-oiled studs the color of over-brewed tea with buttocks waxed smooth like two Granny Smiths in clingfilm — are so lame that no ’80s revival can give them a comeback. The miracle of Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 film “Magic Mike” was how un-naff it was. Based on star Channing Tatum’s own experiences as a teenage stripper, it even had one bronzed pec in the real world. Missing — and missed — are Matthew McConaughey as snake-hipped strip club owner Dallas and director Soderbergh, who gave the original its lived-in feel. (Soderbergh is officially retired from directing; he’s credited here as cinematographer and editor). So while the first film had a pet pig eating sick off the floor after an epic party, “XXL” has a bumper selection of crotch-in-face grind. Honestly, this is the closest Channing Tatum will ever get to making a porn film. 

Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times

In the era of the dad bod — an ascendant, doughy female ideal of a guy who doesn’t count his carbs or hers — there is something about the protein-powder-built bodies in “Magic Mike XXL” that feels out of step, like a male fantasy of what a female fantasy should be. I suppose there’s something equalizing about objectifying male bodies as much as we objectify female ones, and something sweet about filmmakers thinking this hard about what turns women on. But it’s hard when the movie’s female characters make even these cartoon men look like portraits of complexity. 

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

For all of its exalting, sex-positive feminism, there are more than a few moments in “Magic Mike XXL” when the simulated mounting, thrusting, bumping and grinding look less like fun than the dutiful ministrations of scantily clad wage slaves, their female admirers concentrating, with similar determination, on keeping the dollars unfurling and their rictus-like smiles from flattening into bemusement or plain boredom. At the point when one lucky lady (sorry, “lay-dee”) is doused with copious squirts of chocolate sauce and whipped cream, it’s possible to wonder whether the filmmakers’ defense of female desire has slipped from devotion into patronizing caricature.

Maryann Johansson, Flick Filosopher

I don’t find Christian Grey’s antics romantic. I don’t find Channing Tatum appealing. And I don’t understand why random men taking their clothes off in front of a crowd in public is automatically sexy. If anything, Magic Mike XXL is an unintentional parody of Sexy(TM), an unwitting sendup of caricatures of men and women and sex and attraction that so much of pop culture — including advertising! — is built on. But we’re meant to swallow this straight-faced and unconditionally. Creativity is attractive. The talent to make something useful and beautiful is very attractive. Grinding your crotch in the face of a woman you don’t know on a stage while hoards of screaming women watch and throw cash at you is icky. And sad. And definitely not sexy.

Kimberley Jones, Austin Chronicle

The first “Magic Mike,” directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on star Channing Tatum’s early career as a stripper, was grittier in its exploration of a Tampa revue of male exotic dancers. For all its grinning about grinding bodies, there was no mistaking that a sweaty thong was where Mike’s dreams went to die. Still, women climbed aboard the movie like a theme-park ride and screamed their way through it. Those screams did not fall on deaf ears. The sequel, flatly preposterous but as eager to please as a big dumb Labrador, hardly bothers with plot. It wants only to be loved, and to let women know it loves them, too: titillation and affirmation, sealed with the feint of a real kiss. “Magic Mike XXL” isn’t really a movie. It’s a bachelorette party, or a book club, or any other safe space where women gather for some of that “you go, girl” good feeling. It’s an amusement-park ride. Fasten the safety belt, secure your purses, and get ready to scream.

Mara Reinstein, Us Weekly

Oh, yes, this follow-up film about a pack of genetically blessed, oiled-up male strippers is both light on its feet and a dazzling feat of sexy entertainment. It’s also loaded with more good times than the last bachelorette party you pretended to have fun at while you secretly longed to be home bingeing “Orange Is the New Black.”

Barabara VanDenburgh, Arizona Republic

It is, in a word, ridiculous. To the film’s credit, it knows it’s ridiculous. It’s aiming for ridiculous, and it hits the mark as precisely as the strippers groove half-naked to their beats. But that winning (if threadbare) formula is unsustainable. It has all the artistic depth of an actual strip show, and it couldn’t possibly appeal to anyone outside its given demographic. But there’s still plenty of ribald magic in “XXL’s” Mike for anyone with a few extra sweaty dollar bills to throw in.

Kate Erbland, The Playlist

The dancing is the best it’s ever been, and although the film’s jaw-dropping final act, centered on the guys’ convention performance, is one for the books, a minimart-set sequence focused on Manganiello is the highlight of the entire film. It also looks and moves exactly in the way one would expect a movie about male strippers to look and move, which is to say, kind of hilarious, definitely sexy, and mortifyingly entertaining. Still, even the best routines can’t entirely raise the film from its shambling, directionless feeling, and nothing is nearly as tight as Tatum and crew’s dance moves.

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