Although I wasn't keen on the first film, I watched this on the recommendation of my sister - and was very pleasantly surprised!
While I expected a couple of hours of gratuitous nudity and air-humping, what I discovered instead was an actually well-crafted story with emotional depth and a satisfying narrative.
Gone is Mike's sour-faced love interest, cartoonish ringleader Matthew McConaughey and insufferable protege Alex Pettyfer (by far the three worst characters from the first film). Instead the sequel introduces colourful new characters and brings some much-need depth to the cardboard-cutout characters of the first film.
Magic Mike XXL is basically a roadtrip movie with all the fun and hi-jinks you would expect and in contrast to the seedy hedonistic lifestyle depicted in the previous film, the guys in XXL are just a group of friends who love women, love dance and love each other. They seemed like actual friends in this rather than people who happen to work together and their dynamic was enjoyable to watch.
The choreography was also a thousand times better in this film. As pointed out even within the film itself, the routines from the original film were cliche, boring and relied way too much on the attractiveness of the dancers rather than actual talent.
I don't know if the actors' dancing skills have improved since then or if they were just given more to work with this time round but either way the routines in this were notably better and very engaging to watch (Channing Tatum sure does a damn good backflip).
The routines were also different enough to hold interest, taking place in a range of locations with a variety of unique and interesting props and costumes. Unlike the previous film which seemed to mostly consist of Mike hogging the spotlight while the others dance vaguely in the background, it really felt like each dancer got their time to shine both individually and as part of the group.
There was a lot more racial diversity in this film than in the previous one and in my opinion women were much better represented. In fact there was a notable theme of female empowerment, with women referred to throughout as 'Queens' and 'Goddesses' who deserve to be pampered and treated right by the men in their life.
Overall I was very surprised and very impressed with this film. A huge improvement from the first one.