Magic Mike’s Last Dance isn’t nearly the crowd-pleaser its predecessors were. However, despite this seeming step down from the crime-adjacent Magic Mike and the affirming bro-trip of Magic Mike XXL, this threequel’s approach leaves it feeling both like an intriguing departure as well as a logical end-point (if this is indeed the end; these movies could go on forever in theory) to a series that has thus far put its leading man through the wringer. Scattered at its worst but hilarious at its best, the major complaints against it are limited to a few of its climactic scenes. Granted, in a Magic Mike movie this means the section with the most vital and explosive dance moments fails to fully engage. It’s an uncharacteristic disappointment for the series, but director Steven Soderbergh and writer Reid Carolin’s interests this time around are far more romantic – and that is an element at which they undoubtedly succeed.
In a curious departure from the first two films, an intriguing, English-accented voice over catches us up to speed on Mike (Channing Tatum). After pandemic-related financial woes, he finds himself reluctantly bartending charity events into his 40s, with both his exotic dancing and custom furniture making far behind him. He’s noticeably older and more world-weary than when we last saw him, and his face is practically contorted into a stiff, disgruntled scowl. It’s a look that doesn’t suit him, which makes his risqué encounter with the high-strung, middle-aged socialite Maxandra (Salma Hayek) feel all the more liberating, since it opens up brand-new avenues overseas when she ropes him into directing a raunchy revival of a Victorian stage play at a historic London theatre.
Magic Mike XXL traded in similar notions of self-actualization, but this time, the liberation is of a mutual sort, since Maxandra finds herself smitten in ways she’d forgotten were even possible. Where the fantasies in the first film were physical, with the added layer of being spiritual in the second, they now take a more holistic form. As Mike and Maxandra attempt to remix the script of an age-old marriage story, one about choosing between love and money, similar questions soon arise about their own rom-com scenario. Where the first film’s romance is woven within a tale of breaking free from illicit enterprise (and the second film circumvents romance altogether), the third film’s central love story is embedded within a whimsical tale of class, but one that ultimately makes room for a rosy romantic fantasies – it’s Jane Austen with male strippers, and it’s an absolute delight.
Like any good romance, Last Dance’s central dynamic is paramount. Maxandra’s messy, ongoing divorce becomes a source of consternation, but she conceals her vulnerabilities with an air of power and panache. Meanwhile, Mike – embodied with familiar precision by Tatum, Hollywood’s himbo extraordinaire – is out of his depth in this classier setting, allowing Maxandra to lead him by the hand in a mutually gratifying sugar mommy scenario (though one they both agree shouldn’t involve sex, which only adds to the already palpable tension). But despite her flaunting, Maxandra is often exposed like a raw nerve thanks to Hayek’s delightfully animated approach, projecting the character’s insecurities for the back row. However, the duo’s connection, both physical and emotional, yields invigorating creative and interpersonal tensions. As a result, Magic Mike’s Last Dance feels like a concentrated metaphor for studio filmmaking, where love and business are forced to clash, coexist, and intertwine.
Where Tatum was more of a co-lead in Soderbergh’s 2012 original (alongside Alex Pettyfer’s Adam, aka “The Kid”), just as he was part of a vibrant ensemble in Gregory Jacobs’ 2015 sequel (he felt inseparable from the likes of Tito, Ken, Tarzan, and Big Dick Richie), he’s a solo act this time around. Not only does it make sense to finally make the titular character the focus of his own story, but it also forces him further out of his element, since he doesn’t have his boys to back him up.
A far cry from the Florida setting of the first two movies, Last Dance is partially a fish-out-of-water comedy, courtesy of the way Tatum fine tunes his “aww shucks” American frat boy demeanor when in the presence of Maxandra’s stone-faced butler Victor (Ayub Khan Din) or her snarky, booksmart teenage daughter Zadie (Jemelia George). Then again, Tatum is so comfortable with the role at this point, so naturally confident yet slyly self-effacing, that he could ooze chemistry opposite a block of wood. (Lest we forget, the last time we saw Mike building furniture, literal sparks preceded his solo strip-tease to Ginuwine’s “Pony.”)
Thankfully, we aren’t left to find out whether Tatum could carry a Magic Mike film on his own. His chemistry with Hayek is heartstopping, right from their first uncertain glances, all the way through Mike yanking Maxandra – gently, and then animalistically – through an erotic lap dance in close quarters shortly after they meet. It’s one of the most sensual Hollywood sex scenes in which there’s no actual sex, but rather, the evocation of sex through rhythmic motion and lustful eye-contact that both sternly commands and gently seeks permission. Soderbergh, acting as his own cinematographer once more, swings in tandem with Mike for long, unbroken stretches. He never cuts abruptly, and only occasionally fades to similar moments from the duo’s half-clothed, wholly ecstatic rendezvous, as if time were stretching infinitely within singular moments.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance Images
This early scene is also, unfortunately, Last Dance’s unequivocal high-point, which the rest of its nearly two-hour runtime fails to match. However, it switches modes and even genres so frequently that this lack of enrapturement becomes a passing concern (as long as tonal consistency is something you find negotiable; these films are musical-adjacent, after all). As Mike and Maxandra scout and audition male dancers from various disciplines, the comedic energy fills what would otherwise be procedural montages with the unbridled joie de vivre of a snappy vacation film.
The editing is credited to Mary Ann Bernard, Soderbergh’s mother, but that’s just another one of his pseudonyms; this is his vision through and through. When Mike and Maxandra’s stage production faces legal and logistical troubles, Sodebergh finds the most absurd moments to tap into the whip-smart sensibilities he brought to the Ocean’s Trilogy, transforming Last Dance into an absurdly funny hybrid between provocative stripper romp and mile-a-minute heist caper. This even leads to a spiritual follow-up to XXL’s euphoric “Cheetos and water” scene, which was focused entirely on using dance and male sexuality to unearth the hidden smile of a woman steamrolled by mundanity.
On the flip side, where the first two films’ funniest, most heartfelt, and even most provocative moments were all deeply character-centric, Last Dance has little concern for any of its dozen or so new dancers, failing to give them so much as a closeup or memorable character moment. Not only this, but it keeps them at a physical distance, too. So when Last Dance switches gears and charges towards a performance-heavy climax, the only whooping and cheering you’re likely to hear is baked into the sound mix. There’s a shocking lack of intimacy during the newcomers’ dances, which – according to Mike and Maxandra’s own artistic vision – are meant to be centered around intimate fantasies in the first place.
For a film and series so adept at capturing dance as an erotic communion (one that wants so badly to make you hoot and holler), it becomes strangely sterile and uninvolved in its final act, as if the images on-screen were a mere retread of familiar images and scenes, but without the heart and soul. With familiar faces like Ken and Richie absent this time, Last Dance uses the mere shapes of its dancers and hunks – as if they were newcomers meant to inherit the series in a Magic Mike legacy sequel – rather than continuing an ongoing story about the hearts behind each pair of muscular pecs, and how they move through the sacred space between two people’s bodies. Though perhaps, if only by accident, this also aligns perfectly with Soderbergh’s introspective view on the Magic Mike series as a whole, given where Magic Mike the character and his relationship find themselves in the story at this time (within, of course, the grander metaphor of art as love, and love as studio filmmaking).
Not only does Last Dance center feminine fantasy more strongly than its predecessors – rather than having her desires presumed by male characters, like the Magic Mike women before her, Maxandra is up front about her wants – but it is also conspicuous about its self-reflexivity, something with which neither Magic Mike nor XXL seemed remotely concerned. This becomes apparent from the voice over’s frequent pseudo-sociological musings about the evolutionary purpose of dance (an element whose sophomoric nature is eventually clarified), and it becomes especially overt when Hayek’s character is introduced with a glance at the camera, shattering the fourth wall.
A few stray lines of dialogue even hint at a similar self-awareness, but this doesn’t continue too explicitly beyond the opening scenes. However, it does couch Last Dance in a context similar to that of The Matrix Resurrections, in that there are times you wonder if the filmmaker doesn’t want to burst through the screen and yell about the rigid demands of profit-driven cinema. This thread is practically inseparable from the romantic tensions between Mike, the director, and Maxandra, his wealthy producer. But Soderbergh ultimately comes down on the side of giving over to at least these demands, and ploughing through their most crushingly bland moments, in order to find the real heart of his artistry. In Hollywood, and in love, compromise may be necessary.
For Soderbergh, and for Mike, this means rescuing surprisingly inert moments with surprisingly introspective ones, as Last Dance’s self-reflexivity yields deeply impassioned reflections on Mike and Maxandra’s relationship, all expressed through movement. This results in some of the series’ most moving, sexually unrestrained dance sequences yet, in which Tatum embodies a sense of breathless, soulful desire. No matter where else it falters, it comes around to being worth it for those specifically, magically familiar moments which now force their way into unfamiliar territory as Soderbergh forces Mike to grow up and face adult realities head on.