Anyone who knows my thoughts on Magic Mike XXL knows I am an unapologetic fan of America’s road trip masterpiece. It is a joyous celebration of life, male intimacy, and letting go of our pretensions. The Channing Tatum vehicle felt like a huge step forward for the franchise. It finally landed on its tone. When the plans to conclude the trilogy with Steven Soderbergh back at the helm, there was palpable excitement. While featuring some of the best individual scenes in the series, Magic Mike’s Last Dance is missing much of what made the last film so endearing. Still, Tatum and Salma Hayek Pinault make for an alluring pair, powering the film with their charisma.
Once again, Mike Lane (Tatum) finds himself directionless. With COVID, his furniture business stalled out and closed. Unwilling to dance on his own, Mike bartends to cover the bills. After being recognized at a gig, he provides “one last dance” for the uber-rich Max Mendoza (Hayek Pinault). Impressed by his skills, Max flies Mike to London to take over a show playing at a theater she operates but was owned by her ex-husband.
As always, Tatum draws on his incredible skillset as a dancer like few others. The way he controls the micro-movements of his body continues to stagger, and he sweeps the audience off their feet once again. With Hayek Pinault, the two provide the series with its first lust-inspiring couple. Their first real scene together results in a minutes long-montage that will make you give you the urge to light up a cigarette. Unfortunately, this is the high point of the film.
While Soderbergh returns to the director’s chair, he has been intricately involved in each release of the franchise. All the more concerning, Magic Mike’s Last Dance serves as a better sequel to Magic Mike than XXL. On one level, that makes sense, given that Soderbergh formally directed the first feature. The only aspect that remains from XXL is the more intricate camera movement.
Storywise, this is a vast retreat. Each entry establishes Mike as a commitophobe, who cannot maintain romantic relationships. However, the entire last film showed renewed bonds with his friends. The premise of XXL set up the “last ride” narrative. Yet Last Dance limits their role to that of a Zoom call, where Joe Manganiello has a bad connection. It would be one thing if new characters with actual agency were introduced. Instead, Soderbergh and Carolin decide to replace them with literal background dancers. The dancing is strong, yet Last Dance makes no effort to characterize them outside of their physical appearance. Instead, Last Dance credits them as “the dancers.” It’s a disappointing turn of events, to say the least.
Other aspects of the film feel strangely out of place. Soderbergh decides to use narration, which feels completely unnecessary. Even odder, the narration does little to help us understand Max’s daughter Zadie (Jemelia George). The camera and lighting are excellent again. Yet Soderbergh also decides to drop in black-and-white sequences during a few of the dances. It’s a fun flourish but does little to help the already outstanding visuals.
While Magic Mike’s Last Dance gives Soderbergh a chance to celebrate the golden age of film musicals, it actually feels like he pulled his punch. An outstanding dance sequence with Tatum and Kylie Shea overshadows the rest of the show he builds out. Even that scene is chopped up by clumsy editing, all of which seems to believe the audience does not remember the incredibly evocative dancing from earlier in the film. Even if you give Soderbergh the benefit of the doubt, that the scene is scene through Hayek Pinault’s POV, it still makes little sense.
Fitting in Juliette Motamed – in a scene-stealing role as the MC – adds ties to Fosse, but never adds the moral intricacies or depravity of his films. At times, Magic Mike’s Last Dance simply relies too much on Tatum and Hayek Pinault to save the day. This results in the weakest film of the franchise, and ironically the least splashy.