Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) Movie Review

At the risk of starting off way too in the weeds into Magic Mike lore, it was the reprise of Ginuwine’s “Pony” toward the end of Magic Mike’s Last Dance that cemented for me why this trilogy capper left me so underwhelmed. “Pony” became something of a theme song for the Magic Mike films, it being the signature song the titular male entertainer Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) dances too in the first film. It returns in this third installment, and it is certainly there solely as a fan nod. Thematically, the song holds a special meaning in Mike’s tumultuous journey through the exploitative and soul-crushing realities of late-stage capitalism, a meaning that is entirely lost in Last Dance.

In Magic Mike XXL, Mike performs a brief dance to the song when it comes on in his workshop – he begins the second film fighting for the scraps of the American Dream with a small custom furniture business. It’s late at night, and he’s been working all day. From the first few scenes, one wonders if the man ever has time to sleep, lest his one-employee business slips away from him. When “Pony” comes on, he starts incorporating dance moves into his metal-work, the scene a bittersweet moment of nostalgia that signals to the audience that Mike is willing to go on the “one last ride” that takes up the bulk of that movie’s runtime.

Later in the film, he makes his relationship with “Pony” (and thus, his past as a dancer) explicit. The song meant more to the man who considered Mike and others financial tools than it did to Mike himself. Further, if he is to return to dancing, he knows there is no reason to go back to the same old song and dance (literally). Because dancing is an art at which Mike excels.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance is very much concerned with Mike’s talent as a choreographer. Yet, we end with “Pony.”

Why do I harp on this extremely minor point? Because, while Last Dance has its moments of sharp cinematography and stellar choreography, its scripting and thematic shortcomings are so glaring that it is hard to just sit back and enjoy the show. The ideas in this film share a kinship with the themes of Magic Mike XXL (the apex of the series to which Last Dance aspires), but the way these ideas are expressed do not always align with what this franchise contends to be about.

Magic Mike XXL is ostensibly about three primary things: healthy male friendship, the struggles of middle class life in America, and, most importantly, female pleasure. More than anything else, the execution of these three things yields a fun experience, which is why I prefer it to the more somber Magic Mike.

Last Dance wants to be fun, and it occasionally is. It also appears to be more or less about two of these three main themes (sadly, the male friendship angle is relegated to an awkward Zoom video conference scene). But the economic points get lost in the static depiction of wealth and horrendously didactic bits of dialogue – if you say the words “systematic economic inequality” than your movie must be about such a topic, right?

As for female pleasure, the film oscillates in ways that are difficult for me to reconcile. For one, it is still a film about focusing on what women desire made by an industry that historically neglects such things. On the other hand, it is a film that states directly its intent of being about female empowerment while reflecting the same cultural tendencies against female empowerment that it claims to be critiquing.

The plot of the film involves Mike, who after a whirlwind night with the wealthy Maxandra (Salma Hayek) is whisked away to London to direct a staid period piece play entitled Isabel Ascendant. The play appears to be about a woman taking control of her romantic endeavors, but, according to the film’s resident encyclopedia and Maxandra’s daughter Zadie (Jemelia George), the third act is nothing but reinforced patriarchy.

The central tension, according to Maxandra, is that the female lead must choose between a man and money (but why not both?). Instead of a traditional rendition of this play, Maxandra and Mike decide instead to make it … well, a male stripper show, essentially. This Isabel Ascendant narrative echoes into Maxandra’s story, though, in a way that undercuts the concept of revision. For a film whose plot is so concerned with breaking away from the traditional artistic canons that sideline female agency, it does a whole lot of sidelining, to the point where Hayek’s Maxandra declares at one point, “I’m powerless!”

Meanwhile, the story presents romantic tropes that feel like two steps back from Magic Mike XXL’s attention to pure, sensual spectacle. Mike and Maxandra undergo a prolonged will-they-or-won’t-they romance tinged with jealousy and sexual tension generated for its own sake.

Don’t get me wrong, the chemistry between Tatum and Hayek is the element keeping this ship afloat. The dance sequence that inaugurates their romance has electricity. A dance late in the third act that retells elements of their relationship through movement is by far the most exciting choreography the film has on offer. (The third place dance sequence takes place on a bus, lasts all of two minutes, and has nothing to do with the two of them, so I’ll leave that there).

Magic Mike’s Last Dance is the low point in the trilogy. It lacks the characters and relatively-speaking tighter story structure of Magic Mike and the picaresque ode to pleasure of Magic Mike XXL. Steven Soderbergh returns to direct, but aside from the occasional flourish or pointed closeup, this is less visually appealing than the previous entries (also, I swear I noticed the audio peaking in multiple scenes). But the central problem here is the script, which includes a ruinous voiceover which speaks to sociocultural and historical concerns that this movie has no idea what to actually do with.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance: C+

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)


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