Steven Soderbergh’s hyper-sexualised comedy movie Magic Mike is now ten years old, and the Channing Tatum vehicle has forged quite the legacy over the last decade. A movie which showcases the male form in all its glory carries an obvious appeal for a female demographic and within the gay community, but there is a reluctance among straight men to even watch a film like Magic Mike, never mind admit to enjoying such a picture.
Magic Mike is a movie based on a true story, largely drawing on the experiences of its star Channing Tatum when he was an 18-year-old stripper in Florida. From the outside, the movie may look like a simple excuse for a group of attractive men to show off their six-packs and dance around, nothing more than a thinly-veiled thirst trap. But Magic Mike is far more than that.
A combination of misleading marketing and the rise of toxic masculinity has really twisted the narrative around Magic Mike, in fact. Yes, women and gay men love it, but Magic Mike is arguably just as much a film for heterosexual men, and here’s why.
The marketing campaign for Magic Mike originally went very heavy on the typical rom-com movie elements, pushing the relationship between Mike and Brooke in its first trailer. After it became clear that the promotional content had missed a trick in not playing to the appeal of gay men, subsequent trailers became far more focused on the male form.
Obviously, marketing for any film has one very distinct purpose, and that is to hone in on the aspects of the movie which will most strongly resonate with the key demographics. But, when you watch Magic Mike, there is so much more beneath the surface that gives it a wider appeal than you would initially expect.
Although the majority of the movie takes place in strip clubs, and there is, of course, plenty of gyrating and thrusting, the concept of stripping is merely a framing device for the deeper storylines at play in Magic Mike.
Themes of crime and drug abuse collide with a coming-of-age tale for Adam (Alex Pettyfer), while Mike (Tatum) contends with financial problems and the balancing act of his own ambitions and sense of responsibility for his young protégé. It’s the kind of complex and engaging narrative that wouldn’t feel out of place in a great thriller movie.
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You could arguably swap out the stripping for any more stereotypical, masculine activity, and the story would still work. Imagine, if you will, instead of hitting the poles, the dudes hit the waves, and just like that, Point Break and Magic Mike become cinematic cousins. What if, rather than muscle men, it was muscle cars? Magic Mike could easily be part of the Fast and Furious family.
I remember watching Magic Mike for the first time. My brother and I decided to put it on almost ironically, fully expecting a dumb chick flick we could laugh at rather than with. Cut to an hour later, and we are both totally absorbed, telling our mum to be quiet when she walks in and interrupts the film.
It’s rather fitting that I shared this experience with a sibling, given the concept of brotherhood at the heart of Magic Mike. This is essentially a film about dudes being bros and supporting one another emotionally. Despite the intense physicality of the movie, Magic Mike is surprisingly spiritual and nuanced, allowing its characters to open up and be vulnerable.
The conversation around men’s mental health has become a more positive one in recent years, and there is a definite desire in general for there to be a more active support network in place for men to share their problems and seek help. In 2012, this concept was far less evolved, so to see a band of macho men subverting the idea of masculinity at the time was somewhat revolutionary.
The idea that admitting you have a problem makes you weak is archaic and deeply harmful. So for Magic Mike to inspect not only the more outward issues of drug abuse, but to also look inwards at the perceived failures of Mike in achieving his ambitions is a refreshing approach. It’s also a fascinating juxtaposition, with both body and mind intertwining perfectly.
Although events in the movie are embellished, this is a story that is close to Tatum’s heart and something he felt was important to bring to the screen. Whether he knew it or not, Tatum was creating something more than just a fun flick; Magic Mike is a film which well and truly defies the nature of toxic masculinity in pretty much every way.
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Channing Tatum, in particular, had built a reputation as a sex symbol from his roles in the 2000s. To not only lean into this status but to subvert it at the same time, Tatum was able to give himself and his fellow performers the platform and the freedom to embrace their bodies while exploring a range of insecurities that are more typically addressed with bravado.
Magic Mike could not have a more appropriate title, in fact. The art of misdirection is a magician’s greatest ally, and it’s utilised to great effect here. While we as viewers are primarily distracted by the overt displays of sexuality, the more refined thematic intentions creep up on us and leave quite the impact by the end of the movie.
So, men, I’m here to tell you that watching a movie like Magic Mike is nothing to be afraid of, nor will liking, or indeed loving a movie like Magic Mike make you less of a man. There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, and we could all be more open-minded about the content we consume.
They say never judge a book by its cover, and that could not be more true of Magic Mike; a movie which will not only entertain you but could well enlighten you, too.