Magic Mike’s Last Dance is simply not a Magic Mike film. This is plain and simple a different cinematic universe. A cute enough one, I suppose, where darling salt-of-the-earth, working man, stripper-turned-carpenter Channing Tatum is swept up by a beautiful woman and whisked away to London to direct a dancing show at her prestigious theater.
Dancing show is the key term here. Because the third and presumably final installment of the Magic Mike series is, as much as it pains me to tell you this, not a stripping movie, but a dancing one. At a few points the dancers that Mike hires for his new London show take their shirts off, or grind on some women in chairs, but it is not the beautiful, horny display that the first two Magic Mikes delight in.
The first two Magic Mike films offered a beautiful and rare gift — cinema that was targeted at women that served the sole purpose of tapping into joyous, superficial horniness. The magic of Magic Mike were the very thongs that Soderbergh chose to ditch for tasteful black boxers (of which we only catch the rarest glimpse, anyways). The magic of Magic Mike was celebrating the working class himbo who found joy in a hard day’s work of offering women their wildest, most inaccessible fantasies in the form of earnest spectacle.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance opts instead to totally rid of the original dancing troupe, save for a two minute Zoom call, and replace the beautiful, endearing strippers we know so well with what the film seems to imply are “real” dancers — some street performers, sure, but mostly classically trained dancers are hired for Mike’s show. The accidental implicit messaging is that real male strippers wouldn’t be appropriate in this sort of venue, and that “real” dancers are going to have to take their place to be palatable.
The show that Mike is putting on is one selling the idea of stripping, with none of the fun, none of the blatant sexuality, and none of the celebration of the effortful art of male stripping that the first two Magic Mike films work so tirelessly to represent.
No moment of Last Dance’s shirtless sashaying even nears Matthew McConaughey’s oiled-up leather-clad writhing in the first film, or Joe Manganiello’s off-the-cuff and from-the-heart gas station gyrations during the magical, molly-infused road trip of Magic Mike XXL. It’s a tragedy of epic proportions.
In an era of “elevating” genres of film to have them taken more seriously to often diminishing returns, must the stripper movie fall into the same trap? What needed elevating? Who said tasteful, coy sexuality was what Magic Mike needed? Must I only be permitted to see a beefcake naked under the guise of tragic, aching, or “serious” cinema? Can I not be allowed to tap into fantastical sexual desires at a base and superficial level? Magic Mike’s Last Dance suggests that we are not allowed too much of a good thing, that we must always learn to take it down a notch, and have our desire represented in more restrained and palatable ways. It’s a shame, considering the first two films offered such liberation from such a repressive ideal.