The point, the purpose — the raison d’être, if you’re feeling fancy — of the Magic Mike male-stripper movies is catering to women’s fantasies. As the series has expanded from the working-class grit of 2012’s Magic Mike, the fantasy has changed as well. The original movie was just about the pleasure of a hot guy who’s also humble and considerate. 2015’s Magic Mike XXL expanded that idea with a full-on smorgasbord of oiled-up hunks, all ready to toss delighted women around like carrots in a salad spinner.
In 2023’s Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the fantasy has evolved once again: Now, the woman is truly on top, as Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) becomes a kept man. The fantasy here isn’t for a woman to be swept off her feet; instead, she’s handing a man her credit card and saying, “Buy whatever you want, babe.”
Director Steven Soderbergh, whose long-ago threats of retirement from movies continue to ring hollow (he was back around this time last year for the HBO Max thriller Kimi) returns to the series this time around after skipping Magic Mike XXL. His original Magic Mike was more a gritty dramedy than a romantic fantasy, but this time out, he isn’t working in either mode: Last Dance feels more like it comes from the flashy blockbuster mind behind Ocean’s Eleven.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is a My Fair Lady story, but with stripping instead of song. It begins with Mike working a catering gig at a posh Miami mansion, where whispers among the party guests lead the lady of the house, uber-wealthy pseudo-divorceé Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), to retain Mike for his special after-hours services. Fans of the previous Magic Mike movies know this means a combination lap dance/gymnastics exhibition/mimed sex act that’s kind of ridiculous, but also impressive. Maxandra is so taken by Mike that she asks him to accompany her to London the next morning on her private plane, promising a surprise for him once they arrive. Is Florida’s favorite amateur carpenter pivoting into sex work? Not exactly.
Once Mike has settled into his posh new digs and the expensive new wardrobe Maxandra buys him, she finally reveals her master plan. She recently came into possession of a historic theater in the West End that’s been running a show called Isabel Ascending roughly forever. The play is about a woman who has to choose between marrying for love or money, which irks Maxandra and her “Why not both?” approach to life. So, with a delicious side of spite toward her husband’s uptight family, Maxandra has decided to make a statement on her belief that “a woman can have whatever she wants, whenever she wants” by putting on an all-male revue at the theater. And she wants Mike to direct.
In the decade and change since the first Magic Mike became a word-of-mouth hit, live stage productions based on the series have opened in Las Vegas and on London’s West End. This new film often feels like an advertisement for the latter: The theater where many scenes are set resembles the one where the real-life Magic Mike Live! takes place five nights a week, and the plot of the movie sets up an origin story for that same live show. Along the way, we learn some boilerplate lessons about how money can’t buy love, tempered with an acknowledgement that Maxandra’s vast fortune and distant husband (they’re not technically divorced, but they’re estranged and barely speaking) do make life a lot easier.
Channing Tatum, for his part, is still playing the humble hunk. He speaks fluent French, but holds back on replying to a conversation between Maxandra and her precocious daughter until they’ve said things that are, in his words, “hella rude.” He defers to Maxandra on matters of stagecraft, explaining, “It’s about women. I’m not a woman.” That statement is typical of Magic Mike’s Last Dance and its ideas about what women want: When we finally get to the stage show itself, emcee Hannah (Juliette Motamed) shouts out both “a bad boy who always responds to my texts” and “a CEO who pays women more than men.” Consent is also very important to Mike and his crew. And yes, that’s sexy.
But what, one might quite reasonably ask, about the stripping? Aside from Tatum (whose Florida pals from the previous movies, including Joe Manganiello, only appear briefly over Skype), the cast here is all new, made up of street performers and modern dancers Maxandra picks out like so many designer purses. And their scenes split the difference between the sporadic, in-context strip shows of the first film and the beefcake buffet that takes up the entire back half of Magic Mike XXL.
In Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the audience also has to wait to gorge on eye candy until the last 20 minutes. There’s no oil this time around. (Sorry to those who like their men to resemble slippery, muscular seals.) And while there are a few lap dances, most of what transpires on Mike and Maxandra’s stage is a theatrical spectacle rather than an erotic one.
On the whole, Magic Mike’s Last Dance has the feel of a stage musical, complete with big emotions expressed through song — or a half-naked interpretive dance in the fake rain, as the case may be. It’s a lusty, aspirational fairy tale, featuring heightened scenarios, luxe wardrobe choices, and a London where working-class Adonises stage impromptu flash mobs on double-decker buses. (This scene briefly turns the movie into a jazzy caper à la The Italian Job, but with the intent of seducing an uptight bureaucrat, rather than stealing $4 million in gold bullion.) But allowing both love and money to complicate the primal enjoyment of watching muscular men in sweatpants gyrate ends up diluting the film’s once-simple pleasures. Maybe you can’t have it all.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance opens in theaters on Feb. 10.