There’s alchemy at work in Magic Mike’s Last Dance; it bares far less skin than its two predecessors, but this third movie in the Steven Soderbergh franchise is somehow its sexiest – lip-bitingly hot in its opening scenes, then keeping proceedings relatively chaste as it edges toward its climax. It entertains more than the first film in the franchise but sadly never reaches the delightful heights of Magic Mike XXL.
In 2012, Magic Mike focused on the journey of Mike (Channing Tatum) as a stripper and his tutelage of a young rookie (Alex Pettyfer, who was smartly jettisoned in the later films to keep the charming Tatum front and center). The 2015 follow-up, Magic Mike XXL, was a hangout movie, as much about male bonding as it was about female pleasure, balancing the all-boys road trip with the laps they danced along the way. Meanwhile, Magic Mike’s Last Dance focuses far more on romance than the first two movies. Magic Mike ostensibly had a love story, but is that what anyone actually remembers about it?
In this third outing, Mike works as a bartender in Miami when he meets Maxandra (Salma Hayek Pinault) at a party she is hosting. Rich but on the brink of a divorce from her cheating media mogul husband, Max is at a low point. Similarly, Mike is deflated (while still in peak shape) after a failed business venture leaves him in literal debt to his friends and former co-stars. However, a dance — and what a dance it is — from a seemingly retired Mike reinvigorates both of them, and she promises him an opportunity in London. He travels with her and begins working on a stage show with an all-new group of dancers.
Those new dancers get decent screen time, showcasing a variety of dance styles and a diversity of types to please anyone who’s attracted to men. However, they don’t get names, much less character arcs, and there’s no one who matches the appeal of Big Dick Rickie, Tito, or Ken. (Sigh.) Instead, our focus is (im)purely on Mike and Max, as intimacy grows between them while they try to keep things professional. Hayek and Tatum literally bounce off one another in an enviably acrobatic early sequence, but their chemistry throughout the film keeps drawing them back together, even if Reid Carolin’s script doesn’t fully build out their connection.
Carolin threads tongue-in-cheek narration about the history and philosophy of dance throughout the film, but Soderbergh is fully aware that the pleasures here aren’t intellectual. The series was at its most successful in the second film, where any pretense at seriousness was gone, replaced entirely by the sheer joys of seducing and being seduced. Some of that remains here, but there’s less of the elation and silliness that made Magic Mike XXL so much fun. Sexy scenes abound here, but there’s nothing at the level of Big Dick Richie’s convenience store dance. (Will cinema produce such a perfect moment ever again?)
However, Magic Mike’s Last Dance might be more cinematic than its predecessor, with Soderbergh taking back the director’s chair from Gregory Jacobs, who helmed XXL while Soderbergh served as editor and DP. (Or maybe XXL just left me too giddy to notice the finer points of its crafting?) Last Dance does feel more purely like a Soderbergh film, from the follow shot in its opening moments to the gorgeous blue washing over a restaurant scene. There’s a bit late in the film that recalls the perfect intercutting of Out of Sight, and it always feels like we’re in the hands of a great filmmaker.
Soderbergh has achieved a real feat with these three films, placing the straight female gaze and desire as paramount, which is rarely done this well by a male filmmaking team in a major studio movie. Yet XXL wasn’t just a delight because of the hot dudes hanging out in various states of undress and being shot with an appreciative eye; it worked because it showed the diversity of the straight female audience in every possible facet. It was easy to see yourself on screen because there probably was someone like you there, enjoying the view. Last Dance has less of that, and it suffers from its more singular focus. There are fewer women to identify with, and similarly, outside of Mike, there’s little to latch on to in these male characters.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance does fulfill its primary mission of pleasing the audience. Sure, there might be fewer giggles and shrieks of delight than evoked by its predecessor (which is true of practically every movie made since), but this movie still has the requisite performance of “Pony,” and it still satisfies.
“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is in theaters today.