In the bloated realm of summer blockbusters, the 18-to-34 male category reigns supreme. But one movie has come along to challenge that notion and put the wants, needs, and desires of women at the forefront of its message. It just so happens to also feature ripped dudes taking their clothes off and deploy “to sex” as a verb, lots.
On the outside, the focus of Magic Mike XXL is about male strippers. Channing Tatum and his muscle-bound buddies get up on stage, shake their asses to “Pony” by Ginuwine, and leave with a row of dollar bills lining their lamé thongs put there by flocks of adoring women anxiously awaiting the next oiled up beefcake to writhe around to another sex jam played over the club’s loudspeaker.
Even though these are male strippers we’re talking about, dimmer movies would bask in this male ability to seemingly dominate the opposite sex. They’d use it against the women to degrade the pleasure of them actually wanting to have a heightened ideal there in front of them. Instead, Magic Mike XXL uses its themes and “male entertainer” characters as a way to unabashedly serve the women themselves.
Yes, Tatum and the Kings of Tampa exist as a basic sexual fantasy, but they also provide a legitimate emotional purpose to the female as the main focus in the one-to-one stripping equation. It’s their duty to be there for the women. They listen and are attuned to her reactions and yearnings. But the movie posits that they are powerful, charming, genuine, and a host of other positive male traits only because the woman is there to elevate them to that level. Otherwise, they’d just be dudes shaking their banana hammocks around some crappy strip joint in Florida. That insecurity, in fact, rests in the hearts of all the male leads. They know, deep down, that without their ability to amuse women, they’re finished.
Take, as a prime example, the extended sequence that finds Mike and the fellas at Domina, a private house club in Savannah owned by Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character, Rome. She is the queen of her domain, but so are the dozens of skinny, hefty, tall, and short women who pack into the darkened rooms of the house to revel in the strip routines. These women aren’t competing for that affection, and there’s no shame in the movie’s portrayal of this escapism.
As the club’s MC, Rome even affectionately refers to each guest as a queen, a term meant to present each woman as equal and worthy of her own emotions. Later on she genuinely asks her rapt audience, “Are you ready to be worshipped? Are you ready to be exalted?”
Rome’s entertainers, typified by a strangely but perfectly cast Donald Glover, put the onus on the female and not the other way around. Glover’s freestyle rapper/stripper act (I know it sounds goofy, but please stay with me) is predicated upon taking signals from the woman and cuing his improv routine of a quick but meaningful slam poem for her. This isn’t merely a male entertainer taking advantage of his female audience, but instead making the female audience the very point of the act. Without her, he would be another aimless lyricist. Her happiness is his inspiration.
In another scene, Mike and the Kings of Tampa arrive at a private party at the invitation of a group of 20-something girls only to be intercepted in the living room by a handful of hot moms. The party is held at a mansion owned by Nancy (played by Andie MacDowell), a recent divorcee who kvetches to the Kings that her ex-husband was the only lover she’d ever had. Nancy and her crew could have been played for sad, lame laughs. Instead, they connect with the young men, who treat them as peers. The older women took hold of their agency; the men accepted their attention in stride.
In Magic Mike XXL the proverbial male gaze becomes more of a mutual gaze, empowering both sexes, acknowledging that horny-as-hell women make the world go ‘round. The revelation of this male-stripper sequel, hardly your expected bastion of progressiveness, is that both sexes seem very chill with that idea.