“There’s no nudity in Magic Mike’s Last Dance. There’s not even a thong,” director Steven Soderbergh noted in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Inspired by producer and star Channing Tatum’s pre-fame stripping career, the Magic Mike films cast a light on the distinct struggles of male entertainers in a post-Great Recession economy. Behind all the sweaty dollar bills, the first two installments were—at their core—an ode to dance and the resilience of their characters. Unfortunately, Magic Mike’s “final tease” swaps drugs and tear-away pants for pseudo-feminism and an ill-developed romance, resulting in an overly sanitized farewell to a beloved franchise.
Set after the COVID-19 pandemic, Last Dance (2023) picks up after Mike (Tatum) has shuttered his dream custom furniture design company due to the economic downturn and now works as an events bartender in Miami. While working a charity fundraiser, he catches the attention of the foundation head, wealthy socialite Maxandra “Max” Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who propositions him for a private dance to take her mind off her ongoing divorce. After the eye-opening, furniture-dangling $6,000 dance, Max whisks him away to London on a surprise mission. She takes Mike to the historic Rattigan Theater that she’s taken ownership of from her ex-husband and enlists him to direct a stripper show in place of the staid, traditionalist play Isabel Ascendant currently running there.
Despite a promising—if contrived—premise, the script is sloppy, necessitating a narrator to guide viewers through the plot. Last Dance enlists Zadie (Jemelia George), Max’s faux-intellectual teenage daughter, for the role, but the film fails to fully commit to this narrative framework. Rather than providing the structure and personal perspective one expects from a narrator, Zadie instead interjects abruptly throughout the film to pontificate on the evolutionary significance of dance, and also, inexplicably, offer her takes on gentrification and “systemic economic inequality,” all couched in insufferable psychobabble.
These superficial and altogether unnecessary attempts at engaging with real-world issues persist throughout the film. In the wake of her divorce, Max preaches feminism and liberation for women, which she seems to believe is a radical concept (in reality, her ideas wouldn’t have been groundbreaking even 25 years ago). The film’s calls for equality—expressed as hollow one-liners—feel clumsy and out of place: During a discussion about the stage layout, Max declares pointedly that “no woman wants to be suffocated by testicles.”
Yet even with this supposedly feminist spirit, the film proceeds to portray all its female characters as fundamentally unlikable, while their male counterparts—with the exception of Max’s power-hungry ex-husband Roger (Alan Cox)—are depicted favorably or, at the very least, neutrally. Max is flighty, volatile, and an unreliable mother, while Zadie is irritatingly pretentious. Even minor characters cannot escape this treatment: Hannah (Juliette Motamed)—the actress who played the titular Isabel Ascendant and is then enlisted to emcee the final dance—appears to be motivated primarily by her attraction to Mike, openly and uncomfortably thirsting after him during rehearsals. Meanwhile, the film barely characterizes the men, dedicating much airtime but little narrative progression to Victor (Ayub Khan-Din), Max’s vaguely helpful and perpetually lurking butler. Even Mike himself is reduced to a mere plot vehicle rather than a well-defined individual.
The most charming aspect of the first two films in the franchise is the friendship between the Kings of Tampa—Mike’s stripper troupe—as they deal with the highs and lows of the male entertainment industry. Each of them was a fully fleshed-out character with his own personality, struggles, and dreams. Meanwhile, audiences walk out of Last Dance with no idea who any of the dancers—essentially, talented extras—are, other than Mike; we don’t even know their names.
Complementing its superficial characterizations, Last Dance relies on unbelievable conceits to move the plot along—the most absurd being the magical unicorn as a deus ex machina that grants Hannah, in her role as Isabel, any wish she wants. The unicorn, voiced by Mike, devolves the stuffy play into a live strip show, revealing Hannah’s inner desires. She trades in her corseted gown for an all-leather look while emceeing a performance about “women getting what they want.”
Beyond the subpar storytelling, Last Dance fails to create a captivating viewing experience. The film has virtually no soundtrack besides the dance numbers, creating unintentionally uncomfortable silences and further emphasizing the flaws in the script. Additionally, the visuals feel rushed and amateur, from choppy jump cuts to heavy-handed montages, particularly during the climactic final dance.
The film’s greatest strength—and most successful incorporation of feminist ideas—is its dance, particularly the two elaborate performances that bookend the story. From the outset, the film centers female comfort and pleasure. During the first dance, the screenplay emphasizes Mike’s requests for consent from Max, and the intense, mesmerizing choreography is designed with Max’s experience in mind. Later, as the two plan their show in London, they aim to bring passion to what Max describes as a “numb, disconnected, [and] desensitized” predominantly female audience. Ballerina Kylie Shea has a starring (but unnamed) role in the strip show, adding a female perspective to an otherwise male-centric genre. And yet Last Dance’s poor production value cheapens an otherwise dynamic, flawlessly performed dance. In this concluding spectacle, Tatum and Shea recount Mike and Max’s whirlwind romance on a rain-soaked stage, while haphazardly interspersed clips from earlier in the film disrupt one of the few moments of true magnetism and chemistry.
Last Dance relies on half-hearted fan service to keep devotees connected to the franchise. There’s an odd, iMovie-esque intro montage of clips from the first two movies that tries to situate this threequel in the franchise, as if the film even cares about sticking to its spirit. An awkward Zoom cameo between Mike and the other Kings of Tampa sputters and lags for too long before abruptly ending as soon as Max walks into the room, as if any connection between Mike’s current and previous life is out of bounds.
For both new viewers and longtime fans, Last Dance is an unnecessary coda that fails to achieve its stated goals. As she narrates the happy ending, Zadie remarks that “dance doesn’t follow logic or reason”—and disappointingly, neither does this film.