The celebration that was Magic Mike XXL was almost immediately considered one of the best sequels ever made, making the stakes incredibly high for Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the supposed final story for Channing Tatum’s titular Mike. But for those hoping that Last Dance is Magic Mike XXL 2, or maybe more fitting, Magic Mike XXXL, have missed the point of this series—again, beyond watching sexy men do sexy dances. While Magic Mike’s Last Dance may be the weakest of this trilogy, and might be a bit anticlimactic after the events of the last film, it’s also an opportunity for Soderbergh and Tatum to try something new with these characters, and clearly have fun doing it.
As we first meet Mike in Last Dance, we see that strippers sometimes have to move beyond stripping. Since we last saw Mike, he’s now 40, and while he finally opened the shop he’d always wanted, it closed during the pandemic, leaving him as a bartender in Miami. But Mike’s luck isn’t bad for long, as he soon meets Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), a wealthy socialite who first offers to pay him for sex, then settles to pay $6,000 for a dance, after learning that he’s a former stripper. Naturally, the dance is mind-blowing (before it begins, Mike checks the stability of nearby furniture and rearranges flowers, planning his every move before the music even starts), and before long, the two are in bed together anyway.
Now that Max has seen Mike’s skills, she makes him an offer: come to London with her for a month to do a secret job, and at the end of the period, she’ll pay him $60,000. Mike agrees, stating that he’s no longer a dancer, but Max has bigger plans in mind. Max wants to take her ex-husband’s stuffy old playhouse and let Mike direct a show there, allowing the audience to feel some of the magic that Mike gave her with that first dance. Together, Mike and Max attempt to get a show going in a month, one that will utilize Mike’s skills as a dancer, and revitalize the theater in a way that Max’s husband couldn’t.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is often torn between two different stories: the will-they-won’t-they romance of Max and Mike, and the venture to put on this show—neither of them fully works on their own. After the initial dance between Max and Mike, which shows just how powerful and sexy their chemistry can be, they are only kept apart by unnecessary blockades of their own making. Meanwhile, the show hits every cliché you’ve ever seen from any sort of “the show must go on” type story, from a difficulty in figuring out the third act, to the possibility that the show might get shut down.
And while the first two films largely explored the camaraderie, fun, and humor that came from Mike hanging out with his group of stripper friends, Last Dance does away with that sort of friendship. Instead, we are presented a new group of dancers that Max and Mike are training for their new show, and while the film attempts to have the same amount of fun with them, these scenes often are little more than a tease. In one scene, Soderbergh almost plays this story like a heist film—obviously, one of his favorite genres—with the dancers attempting to win over a woman who can keep their show going. This sequence culminates in a dance on a bus that can’t help but remind of the dances in XXL, but just sort of fizzles out right when it’s getting going. While it’s not a bad idea to throw in something like this for fans of XXL, as well as bring in fresh blood for this final installment, these choices—and a short cameo from some of Mike’s old crew—do make it a bit hard to not want more of the same that we’ve seen in the past. But as Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) said in XXL, “It’s not bro time, it’s showtime.”
But like any good lap dance, Last Dance has its moments of slowness, setting the pace, before surprising you with an intriguing move that draws you right back in. The script by Reid Carolin might be a bit clunky, and this may be a disappointment for those wanting all the old favorites back for another adventure, but in the end, Magic Mike’s Last Dance is about Soderbergh and Tatum saying goodbye to this world and having their own damn fun while doing it. For Tatum, who is also now in his 40s, Last Dance almost feels like him closing off this part of his career, as we get the sexier dances that people who love Magic Mike definitely want, like the opening dance with Pinault, and an incredibly sultry dance set in the rain later in the film. But especially in the practices and the tamer dances, this can’t help but feel like Tatum and Soderbergh homaging Tatum’s work in the Step Up franchise, showing off the incredible abilities of Tatum even when he’s keeping his clothes on.
Yet it really feels like Soderbergh is the one having fun here. During a montage of Max and Mike gathering new dancers for the show, Soderbergh sits back and lets these men show off their talents, and the truly insane ways they can move their bodies. In one particularly jarring moment, a dancer almost seems to fold himself in two, and Soderbergh gives us enough time to try and figure out how the hell this person is contorting their body in such a way.
Last Dance also builds to the big finale show, and while in theory, the show is narratively kind of bad (and even though Mike claims he’s done with stripping, and the show is an attempt to make something deeper and moving, c’mon, you know it still ends up as a strip show), Soderbergh is having a ball with this segment. Not only does he make it a continued celebration of what these dancers can do, which is genuinely unbelievable, but also how joyous celebrating these men can be—as we see through the audience of adoring fans. In this sequence, Soderbergh is playful, throwing in an unexpected intermission out of nowhere, and even setting one of the big show-stopping numbers to a Dandy Warhols song, of all things.
Even though the flaws in Last Dance are glaringly obvious—not only is this the worst of the Magic Mike franchise, it’s also clunky in a way Soderbergh films rarely are—it’s still hard to not get caught up in the celebration of it all. This has always been an odd little series, and Soderbergh and Tatum revel in the opportunity to have fun in this world for the last time, play around with this universe, try some weird things out, and just go out with one final bang.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance comes to theaters on February 10.