When: Friday, Feb. 10
Where: In Theaters
Director Steven Soderbergh knows there shouldn’t be a third Magic Mike movie. In a conversation this week, my favorite working auteur stated, “There was no compelling reason to make a third film” before creating the Magic Mike Live show in Las Vegas. And yet, Soderbergh and the rest of the Magic Mike crew—which includes series lead Channing Tatum and screenwriter Reid Carolin—found a way to bring Mike Lane (Tatum) back for one last dance.
What unfolds throughout Magic Mike’s Last Dance is, ostensibly, a dramatization of how Tatum made Live a reality. Picking up in real time after the end of XXL, the pandemic wiped Mike’s burgeoning furniture business off the map, and the former stripper is now bartending and borrowing money to make ends meet. While serving at a charity event, he encounters wealthy socialite Maxandra (Salma Hayek Pinault) and dances for her, after which she convinces him to fly with her to London to produce a stage play that leverages Mike’s specific set of skills.
It would always take a lot of work to follow up XXL, especially by my estimations. Last Dance takes a step back by being less of an ensemble movie but is a far more technically interesting one thanks to Soderbergh, who returns to direct after sitting out XXL (although he still served as editor and cinematographer on the sequel). As a result, the movie looks beautiful. Whether it’s the reflection of neon in a puddle in London, the Miami skyline, or the buzzing neon lights inside a nightclub—every frame is exquisite. That’s not to mention how Soderbergh moves the camera; an active shooting style can sometimes draw attention to itself in a bad way, but that’s never the case in Last Dance, where it glides and dips like Mike’s movement.
The story, which combines the character study of the first film with the feminist overtones of the sequel, evokes a bevy of different touch points—Pretty Woman and Jane Austen novels to name two—and even serves as a process film about filmmaking (there’s one scene where Mike and Maxandra go back and forth about casting in what very much feels like a studio executive trying to shoehorn an upcoming star into a bold production). Last Dance is a romantic comedy filtered through Soderbergh’s unique perspective. Your mileage may vary on the romance between Mike and Maxandra, but I found it very effective, thanks to compelling and naturalistic performances from Tatum and Pinault.
Last Dance is already divisive, but I feel it will age gracefully and end up beloved further down the line, like the recent reclamation of Ocean’s 12. But, even if it’s not, watching Soderbergh's work throughout this film is cause enough to get excited—and worth it to me to watch this final performance of Mike’s magic. — William Goodman