When Channing Tatum first appeared in Steven Soderbergh’s comedy drama, Magic Mike (2012), nobody expected it to be part one of a trilogy. But as Magic Mike’s Last Dance (general release) draws the series to a close, its release coincides with the decline of a specific type of on-screen masculinity: the himbo.
Magic Mike appeared at a time when studios and audiences seemed to favour big muscled bodies. A year after its release, Tatum was on screen again, protecting American democracy while wearing a vest in White House Down. 2013 was a big year for musclemen, even if the plot didn’t always call for it. Of the top ten grossing actors that year, nine were men (Jennifer Lawrence took the top spot), including the chiselled and bulky Chris Hemsworth, Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Channing Tatum, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper. This was the same year that Gerard Butler muscled his way through Olympus has Fallen, and Henry Cavill embodied the title of that year’s Superman instalment, Man of Steel.
They can all be regarded as “himbos” – that is, men who are: large, broad, tall, muscular and attractive. Your typical himbo tends to not be very bright (or has limited social skills), but can usually be relied upon to be a good and decent chap. If 2013 wasn’t the pinnacle of himbos on screen, it was certainly a vintage year.
Mike wasn’t really the main character of the first film, although it was inspired by Tatum’s own background. Adam (British actor Alex Pettyfer), a 19 year-old college dropout, stumbles into the world of male stripping and ends up being mentored by “Magic” Mike Lane (Tatum). In between various sweaty dance routines, some plot happens: a drug deal goes wrong, Mike retires and Adam becomes lead stripper.
Tatum returned for the sequel, Magic Mike XXL (2015), which took a detour into frat bro road-trip comedy, and saw Mike and his dance troupe colleagues from the first film put on one last show for old time’s sake at a male-stripper convention. Soderbergh was on a temporary break from directing and, in his absence, XXL was racier, tackier and less successful than the original.
Around the same time, the fortunes of himbos on screen also began to change. Of the top ten grossing male actors, only Chris Pratt, Chris Evans (both in that year’s big Marvel films) and Mark Wahlberg were bulking up. In 2016 Michael Bay’s testosterone-fest was 13 Hours: the secret soldiers of Benghazi – starring John Krasinki, fresh from playing preppy Jim Halpert in The Office. The lithe Eddie Redmayne appeared in the first of the Fantastic Beasts series, and Ryan Reynolds became leaner, rather than stacked, for Deadpool.
This brings us to Magic Mike’s Last Dance. Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair. Mike has quit stripping (again) after the pandemic claimed his furniture business and he’s now a bartender. He’s picked up by the incredibly wealthy and soon-to-be divorced Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), who pays Mike for a private dance and is so impressed by his moves she flies him to London to help her wreak revenge on her wealthy, cheating husband. Soderbergh doesn’t hang around; all this happens in the first ten minutes before we hit a typical “arriving in London” landmark montage.
It’s engaging, if lightweight, fun – and far more chaste than either of the earlier films. There’s a strong sense that Soderbergh wants to close the book on Mike Lane, who spends most of the film fully clothed, protesting that his dancing days are over. Salma Hayek makes the impossibly volatile Maxandra hugely entertaining – if Last Dance works at all, it’s because of her. As in the first film, Tatum seems perfectly happy to be a secondary character in his own franchise. He’s an older himbo now but can still bring the moves.
With its recognisable London setting, cameo appearances by British comedy actors (Marcus Brigstocke and Vicki Pepperdine) and a precocious child, this could be a Richard Curtis film. It even comes with the most Curtis of Curtis hallmarks: a voiceover narration which alternates between explaining background motivation for the characters, or giving short socio-cultural lectures on the history of dance.
Mike and Max recruit a troupe of himbo-lite dancers, but they’re a nameless and largely silent bunch. In keeping with the general decline in on-screen himbos, Magic Mike’s Last Dance isn’t interested in recreating the thrills of the previous films. Could Mike’s last dance also be the himbo’s?
There are certainly fewer of them around. Some himbos simply got older – Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Jason Statham are all in their 50s. While they’re all still in good shape, there’s a limit to the size and physique an older body can sustain, not to mention the training and supplements required (as Marina Hyde – somewhat controversially – pointed out at a ThinkIn on Top Gun last year). Of the younger familiar himbos, Chris Hemsworth announced time out from acting after discovering Alzheimer’s predisposition, and Henry Cavill was dropped as Superman.
There are also fewer younger himbos rising up through the ranks. Robert Pattinson took over as Batman from the beefy Ben Affleck, refused to bulk up and criticised the “insidious body standards” of Hollywood. Pattinson was one of the top-grossing male actors of 2022, with Tom Holland, Jim Carey, Jared Leto and Rami Malek, and younger stars like Timothée Chalamet and Austin Butler.
Films reflect the societies that make them, and while there’s a likely connection between the body positivity movement and the decline of the himbo, it’s reasonable to expect another correction. Muscles will be back. As any bodybuilder will tell you, there’s an important off-season where you take a break from the intense training and eating required to bulk up. And if Magic Mike’s Last Dance means the himbos are taking a well-earned break, it means they’ll be back in the future, ready to flex. Until then, thanks for the moves, Mike.
Kite Festival 2023
Our festival of music and ideas returns to Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire from 9-11 June 2023. Find out more about what we’ve got planned here.
Tickets are on sale now and as a Tortoise member you can save 25 per cent on the public ticket price here.
Nolly (ITV X)
Screenwriter Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who, It’s a Sin) has spoken of his love of soap operas, and early in his career he almost joined the team behind Crossroads. In this respect, his latest miniseries Nolly is part wish fulfilment and part love letter to a bygone age of television.
Telling the story of the people working in a Midlands hotel, Crossroads (1964-1988) was filmed “as live” on a shoestring budget, making the show famous for fluffed lines and awkward pauses. The scenery moved more than many of the performances, but that didn’t matter – viewers loved it. And most of all, they loved the hotel’s owner and matriarch of the show: Meg Mortimer, played by Noele “Nolly” Gordon. Nearly 40 years after her death, Gordon’s story is reclaimed from obscurity in Nolly, a joyous three-part biography starring Helena Bonham-Carter, focusing on Gordon’s acrimonious split from the show and subsequent attempts to revive her career in a world more interested in the soap opera behind her sacking.
Davies’s script presents Nolly as imperious, glamorous, slightly camp (“dahling”), and a force to be reckoned with – a survivor in an industry that treats women as inferior and older women as invisible. Bonham-Carter relishes every acid remark and show of strength. In one scene, Nolly remarks, “I’m just a middling actress in a middling show,” but in Davies’s hands she finally becomes the legend she deserves to be.
You – Season 4 Part 1 (Netflix)
Watching a man get away with murder over and over again is a premise that could get stale – not to mention distasteful – pretty fast, but the fourth season of You is just as much of a whirlwind as the first three. Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl) returns with a fantastic performance as the deceptively likeable serial killer Joe Goldberg, with Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat) the latest object of Joe’s desires. Now in London, Joe finds himself initiated into a group of the “old money” British elite. He’s taken on his own murder mystery when the rather self-explanatory “Eat the Rich Killer” begins taking out his new circle of friends one by one. Reversing the roles of killer and victim, it’s a clever play on the formula of the first three seasons. Funny, gory and sometimes downright absurd, it’s a welcome addition to the recent list of class-commentary cum whodunnit. Tomini Babs
Hold Me Back (selected cinemas)
Fourteen per cent of Japanese women and 25 per cent of men spend all their time alone. But this “solo culture” doesn’t seem so bad in Hold Me Back (screening across the UK as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme), a novel adaptation by director Ōku Akiko. Thirty-one-year-old “office lady” Kuroda Mitsuko (played by Rena Nōnen – known by her stage name Non) seems content to spend her weekends making wax tempura models, savouring yakinuki, or sipping limoncello in her own flat. And arguing with A (for Answer), the voice inside her head.
Non perfectly captures both the fulfilment and loneliness felt by many young, single Japanese women (ohitorisama). Her child-like interest and joyful aspect can quickly dissolve in more serious scenes; her compassion for a comedian harassed by men or her self-loathing for resenting other women’s successes. Like Amélie (2001), Hold Me Back exists in an idealised vision of a city, in this case Tokyo. Sometimes surreal, sometimes hyperreal, Nakamura Natsuyo’s cinematography augments the dreamy storyline; we too fall in love, over a lingering shot of croquette bag, as it slips from Mitsuko’s hands.
Hold Me Back is not another romantic comedy. Its dense plot, visuals, and complex women characters make for a film about enjoying the journey – one soundtracked by sizzling food. Jelena Sofronijevic
The Mountain in the Sea – Ray Nayler (Orion)
While the White House has now dashed the – frankly, always remote – possibility that the mysterious vessels peppering America’s skies this past week were sent by aliens, the prospect of contact with intelligent life continues to be an alluring one. In The Mountain in the Sea, the debut novel from Ray Nayler, that intelligent life doesn’t come down from the stars, but up from the depths of the sea.
Set in the near future, when artificial intelligence is everywhere and the oceans have been stripped of much of their life, The Mountain in the Sea centres on Dr Ha Nguyen, a marine biologist sent to the Con Dao Archipelago by tech company DIANIMA to study a highly intelligent species of octopus. In a supposed attempt to preserve the archipelago’s ecosystem, DIANIMA has “evacuated” it, guarding its waters with lethal force. But does a corporation specialising in AI really have that much to gain from fencing off a collection of islands, or are the intelligent lifeforms beneath the waves the real prize? Like all the best sci-fi, The Mountain in the Sea is thrilling and thought-provoking, leaving us with much to look forward to from Nayler. James Wilson
How Economics Can Save the World – Erik Angner (Penguin)
In How Economics Can Save the World, Erik Angner, Stockholm University’s professor of philosophy and director of its PPE course, puts forth a series of compelling, evidence-based solutions for addressing humanity’s problems, from existential challenges to climate change to more localised ones like childcare and anti-social behaviour – and why economics is key to solving them all. Familiar policy proposals like universal basic income to tackle poverty and carbon taxes to fight climate change are woven into a wider narrative about how the study of economics can be a force for good. “If you care about any of these problems,” he writes, “you should care about real, actionable, evidence-based solutions to them.”
Central to Angner’s argument is that the primary purpose of economics is to improve people’s lives, not to enrich and protect those at the top. Angner takes aim at how it has become remote and inaccessible, partly down to a failure to communicate its benefits by those who work in the field. In that sense, his book is a success, bucking the trend by prescribing practical solutions to humanity’s biggest challenges and explaining the economic rationale behind them with refreshing – and highly readable – clarity. JW
Life Moves Pretty Fast – The John Hughes Mixtapes (Demon Music)
According to Tarquin Gotch, John Hughes’s music supervisor, Hughes only made movies “so he could choose what music to put in them.” Whether that’s true or not, the end result is a body of work that created a lasting cultural impact still felt and referenced across TV, film and music. As the director of some of the biggest movies of the Eighties, Hughes understood the powerful symbiotic relationship between scene, music, and teen rebellion. His films and soundtracks, featuring up-and-coming British artists of the time, are culture-defining moments – many of them immortalised on bedroom walls and in homemade mixtapes. ‘Oh Yeah’ by Yello puts anyone over 35 behind the wheel of a Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, while ‘Don’t You (Forget about me)’ is the soundtrack to the type of school detention we all dreamed of in The Breakfast Club.
More than just a collection of soundtracks, the mixtapes were curated by Gotch combining tracks from Pretty In Pink with Weird Science, National Lampoon’s Vacation and more across a gorgeously packaged 4CD / 6LP box set. Hughes’s films would have less impact after 1990, but between 1983-86, he visualised the sound of a generation. Take a day off like Ferris, and lose yourself in Hughes’s world.
I think there’s something wrong with Joshy – Cottonwood Firing Squad
Cottonwood Firing Squad’s latest EP is a full-bodied plunge into the waters of angsty-indie dirt-rock. If that genre – with all its hyphens – is your cup of tea, the album is near-perfect; if it isn’t, this might just convince you. Lyrics like “I’ve broken my lease in God’s apartment complex / I’ll sleep on the streets and live out of my pockets” keep the record’s tone consistent with the band’s past work. But there’s a certain charm in such simplistic brashness. It’s perfect for blasting during a hot summer car ride, or for blocking out the world after a bad day at work. Sara Weissel
In this, the Irish band’s second album, The Academic build on the uplifting, feel-good indie sound they showcased on their debut, Tales From the Backseat and their non-album singles like the unashamedly fun ‘Superlike’. Lead singer Craig Fitzgerald’s chirpy, poppy melodies mean that, unlike a lot of indie records these days, there’s not even a whiff of pretentiousness. Highlights include ‘Don’t Take It Personally’ and ‘Homesick’ and, despite the band’s relative obscurity, the anthemic ‘My Very Best’ will convince you that The Academic have a big hit in them yet. JW
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations for Creative Sensemaker to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all for now. Have a lovely weekend.
Mark St Andrew
Additional contributions from Tomini Babs, Jelena Sofronijevic, Sara Weissel and James Wilson
Photographs courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, ITVX, Netflix