Review: Magic Mike XXL is (unwittingly) without the one unanimously good thing about the original. The film opens revealing that MC Dallas has left his team of strippers because Matthew McConaughey, now a widely-revered Oscar winner, chose to not return for the sequel to Steven Soderbergh's 2012 male stripper drama. Rather than leaving the follow-up empty, however, this enables it to go off and do something new, ultimately delivering a more well-rounded experience. My problem with the first movie was how disjointed it felt, with empty stripper scenes that hold little appeal for about half the audience punctuated by a generic people in extraordinary jobs just want a normal life plot. XXL (who knows what theyll call the third) balances things much better, with the narrative looking at machismo in the broader sense and the stripping given actual meaning, particularly in reference to the women who whoop at the chiselled bodies. Mikes life is plateauing and, when Dallas deserts his old friends (off screen, of course), he agrees to go with them to Stripper Convention (those exist, apparently), leading to what is essentially a road movie. The gang jumps from place to place, meeting eclectic character and partaking in much more varied dance sequences (theres a drag bar and some sort of reverse burlesque house). The infered focus is still the same sexy dancing, but what the characters go through is so much more interesting; theyre not just wrestling with if its right or not this time. If anything, going simple made things more complex. The dynamic between Mike and the rest is a great look at modern men and the dreams that lie trapped under the label of bro culture; they're macho, but with heart. This was the crux of the first movie too, but in the spirit of being extra large, this time it's more expansive. Matt Bomer's Ken even goes as far as to pause before leaving an all-night beach party to clear up all the non-biodegradables. These are people struggling to prove themselves in the world, calling their job male entertainer and trapped doing to same old routines they hate, trying to find the purported empowerment that is so often used to defend their profession. Channing Tatum continues to be a typical Hollywood heartthrob who can actually act, totally selling Mikes return to the world he left behind, although once again hes overshadowed by a supporting role. This time its Joe Manganiello as Richie (stripper name Big Dick, which leads to a crude-but-humorous running joke) who takes the limelight. He's an introspective LAD, forced to face the future as time bears down on his free-living life, although all that doesn't get in the way of the fact that he's the most entertaining dancer. A sequence in a convenience store where he uses snack items as props to an impromptu dance (glimpsed so out-of-context in the trailer) is the films highlight, a show of emotion-driven passion scored hilariously to Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way. That scene is an incredible well put-together moment, boasting filmmaking craft you dont expect from a stripper sequel; not only does Manganiello move with the music, but so does the camera as a bemused clerk leans over the counter to look at his writhing form. Yeah, this is an unexpectedly beautiful movie, with dark lighting giving exchanges an intense, intimate feel without ever feeling dingy. Its no surprise that, while hes handed the directorial reigns over to long-time producer Gregory Jacobs, Soberberg is still on board as both editor and cinematographer. Things do kinda fall apart at the end. The gang get the convention and make a spine-tingling (seriously) entrance that, for my dollars, would have been a perfect closing moment; they're is back on top form for their final hurrah. Instead, the film continues with the show, delivering the same amount of stripping as the original in one go. Its all well choreographed, but does little beyond titillate and all too obviously summarise each characters arc. Its a shame the film couldnt have kept things tighter, although to cut this final twenty minutes would seriously p**s off the movies target audience. Besides, for all that simplistic razzle dazzle, its not enough to stop Magic Mike XXL from being a surprise cinematic treat and a superior sequel. Seen Magic Mike XXL? Were you as surprised as me, or did it fail to excite you? Have your say down in the comments. And be sure to check out the rest of our Film Reviews.