In 2012’s Magic Mike, Channing Tatum‘s titular performer lamented that he didn’t want to be a “40 year old stripper”. The irony isn’t lost some decade on where Tatum’s Mike, having seemingly failed at his planned custom furniture business, has to fall back on his expert set of skills. And, as we would expect, the gyrating hips grind as smooth as ever in Magic Mike’s Last Dance, a surprisingly romantic and far more sensual tale that acts as a different (muscular and shirtless) beast compared to its predecessors; the original and its 2015 sequel – Magic Mike XXL – similarly separating themselves from each other with vastly different temperaments.
Audiences expecting an abundance of naked flesh best prepare themselves for the fact that Channing’s cheeks have retired for the time being (hey, there’s always The Lost City if you need your fix), and his grand return to the stage arrives in a more directorial capacity, overseeing a London stage show that’s far too stuffy for its own good, with an owner (Salma Hayek Pinault‘s feisty Maxandra) whose sexual appetite is awakened (thank you Mike) and inspires a narrative change.
Before Mike is whisked away to London, we first meet him bartending at a fancy charity gig, his past briefly rearing its head when a guest (Caitlin Gerard‘s Kim) recognises him as the “cop” who entertained her during a rowdy college party; cue brief Magic Mike flashback. He’s coy, if a little cocky in his banter with her, but it leads to host Maxandra propositioning him after the party has cleared. What initially comes off like an offer for a paid night of sex turns into an impromptu dancing routine, where Mike – clearly nowhere near as rusty as he would have Maxandra believe – arouses and seduces in equal measure; this dance sequence supremely erotic in the sexual positions the two simulate.
Wanting more women to experience what she has, and if it irks her ex-husband in the process, so be it, Maxandra flits off to London with Mike in tow, sprouting ambiguous notes as to just what his intended job is in this faraway land, eventually leading him to her husband’s theatre where she bestows directorial duties onto Mike, asking him to scout dancers for a newly devised show. With sequences devoted to a plethora of interchangeable dancers – all enviably flexible and adorned with 6-packs – there are moments that Magic Mike’s Last Dance leans into a similar mentality of Tatum’s other dance-heavy film, Step Up (2006), but given that the film, which reunites Tatum with the original outing’s director, Steven Soderbergh, has an air of escapism and fantasy to it, time-filling moments such as the aforementioned “audition” scenes don’t feel out of place in a film that’s catering to admiring the male physique, without fetishizing it.
Whilst narratively and tonally Magic Mike’s Last Dance differentiates itself from its predecessors by focusing more on Mike and Maxandra’s blossoming love story – finally he is given a female counterpart that feels worthy after the fleeting and underwhelming pairings of Cody Horn in Magic Mike and Amber Heard in XXL – and downplaying the raunchy spectacle of the act of the strip itself, this threequel continues the series’ respect of how it treats its female viewers and how it views what Mike and his cohorts do; the final climactic act is dedicated entirely to extended dance numbers that have been teased the entirety of Last Dance‘s 112 minute running time, with both the aforementioned thematics of respecting its female crowd and celebrating the dancers’ moves culminating in an exciting joint number that Mike prefaces by noting only with a woman’s permission can true submission take shape.
A far more carnally passionate offering – just wait until you see what Mike and his dancing partner, the Ballerina, come up with as the show’s climax – that refreshingly downplays the sleazy female gaze of the original, Magic Mike’s Last Dance feels appropriately in tune with the more mature mentality that both Tatum and Hayek Pinault bring to the table. There’s still a sense of the youthful energy that has driven the previous films, but it’s dominated by a romantic ripeness that laces this “final tease” with a welcome decorousness.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is screening in Australian theatres from February 9th, 2023.