No more than three minutes into the beginning of Magic Mike XXL, the first bare butt appears. Seconds later, the film’s leading man, Channing Tatum, is thrown into a pool, only to emerge soaking wet — a dress shirt vacuum-sealed to his unfathomably chiseled chest.
Haha, oh wait, where was I?
There are many things this beefcake-y sequel to the 2012 film about male entertainers is not: an Oscar contender, an artistic meditation on the male form in popular culture, a good thing to watch with your parents.
What it is, however, is a whole lot of fun — a concept that Hollywood has long left out of films where female sexuality is concerned. In The Scarlet Letter — and its modern silver-screen incarnation, Easy A — the issue of women having sex is spun into a morality play. Even Fifty Shades of Grey, sold as the ultimate female fantasy, skewed on the side of slut-shaming. Not to get too academic about a movie powered by R&B-soundtracked gyrations, but the Magic Mike sequel offers a refreshing counterpoint to dated sexual tropes: that women (referred to in the film as “queens” an embarrassing number of times) pursue men to have sex — sex they enjoy and don’t feel ashamed of.
In the film, Andie MacDowell deftly plays a middle-aged woman who radiates sexual agency and openly craves intimacy — and ultimately ends up getting some from a much younger Joe Manganiello. The strip troupe’s MC, played by an amply greased Matthew McConaughey in film one, has been replaced by the sassy, girl-empowered Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith), who runs a strip joint tailored solely to a straight female clientele. And the enthusiastic spectators of the bronzed-bro show? They’re young, old, black, white, skinny and curvy. We all have needs, after all.
With a run time of more than two hours, the movie ticks every single hunky cliché box: sparkly thongs, spray-tanned abs, a well-choreographed welding scene, chocolate syrup, bondage and euphemistically employed water bottles. It’s all totally unserious, but so is sex, sometimes.
“Are you ready to be worshipped?” Rome yells during the film’s ass-tastic closing number. “Are you ready to be exalted?” And, armed with infinite stacks of cascading dollar bills amid a chorus of horny, ear-splitting shrieks, the women seem to reply, “Yes. Thank you for finally asking.”