Magic Mike’s Last Dance Review

Magic Mike’s Last Dance is all about female pleasure and the post-pandemic hustle

3 out of 5 stars

Early last year, Steven Soderbergh released a tech thriller, Kimi. The film starred Zoe Kravitz as a behind the curtain worker at a major tech company. Set during the pandemic, Kimi had become isolated and paranoid, increasingly unable to leave her Bay Area apartment. She worked tirelessly on minute tasks to ensure the operations of a “smart-system” speaker like Alexa. Even before the film becomes a paranoid thriller, it captures a deeply rooted anxiety of working in the modern world. The lines between work and play are dissolved, and our ability to connect with others is increasingly strained.

The third entry in the Magic Mike franchise, Magic Mike’s Last Dance, similarly occurs in the pandemic’s shadow. Mike is 40 and working as a bartender at a charity event. He’s lost his business and has decided he will never dance again. After being made an offer he cannot refuse, he is flown to London with an eccentric soon-to-be divorcé, Maxandra (Salma Hayek), to mount an elaborate strip stage production as a convoluted revenge against Maxandra’s ex. 

The Magic Mike movies (like Kimi and many of Soderberg’s other films) have been about work from the beginning. Money in relation to sex work is part of the central thrust of the first film’s narrative. The opportunity and risk associated with working in the precarity of legal margins underline an increasingly global phenomenon of “gig” and “hustle” culture, which stresses freedom and reward for the clever, industrious worker. The reality, though, reflects a job market with very little security. On an existential level, this type of work shrinks the ability to have a private life untouched by labour. Everything is transactional, even our identities. 

The popularity of Magic Mike as a franchise has little to do with what it has to say about work. Audiences, women in particular, were pulled in by the camera’s adoring gaze on the male form and the emphasis on female pleasure. Even “off stage,” most of the dancers in the film represent an idealized fantasy of masculinity that is tender and attentive. In Magic Mike’s Last Dance, even more than Mike’s sensuality, his “authenticity” and his ability to listen is what inspires Max. One of the film’s throughlines underlines the fantasy of the Magic Mike experience as a means for women to reconnect with who they are outside their roles as mothers, wives and even workers.

Salma Hayek and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike’s Last Dance

While I understand the exuberance around this emphasis on female pleasure, particularly for older women who often see their desires on screen reduced to a punchline (if they are recognized at all), the film carries a deep sadness within them. Whatever Magic Mike and the other dancers are selling as a fantasy is only a brief escape from the drudgery of our lives. While on the one hand, there’s something heartening and powerful about the fact that even the shallow pleasures afforded by marrying a billionaire can’t compete with the intimacy of a warm, hard body, that experience becomes immediately reduced to a commodity through the transactional nature of our current system.

Soderbergh is well aware of this, and throughout his newest film, he also reminds us that even the idea of escape through pleasure and sensuality remains a bourgeois fantasy. In one scene, Max and Mike are in the back of a Rolls-Royce discussing “fake” people. They laugh and joke about Max’s uptight, two-faced friends. Max turns to Mike, telling him he’s the only real person she knows. The editing of the scene continually cuts to Victor (Ayub Khan-Din), a driver and butler for the wealthy family. Is he also “fake”? In the eyes of Max, is he a person at all? 

The reality is that only some of us can opt out of work outside of a tiny subset of the upper class. More profoundly, we increasingly live in a world where it’s impossible to have an identity outside of what we do to make money. We are disconnected from all personhood outside of capital, which begs the question, what is Magic Mike really selling? Female empowerment? Entertainment? Or a brief opportunity to be a person again? 

On the whole, Magic Mike’s Last Dance is the least compelling film in the franchise. The dancing doesn’t work, and many of the narrative’s quirks are more interesting conceptually than in practice. The film’s metatextual narrative, examining the construction of identities and gaze through new points of view (including a teenage girl writing a novel), is fascinating as a self-examination of how Magic Mike operates as a franchise in discourse with the world at large. Still, it also contributes to the film feeling simultaneously bloated and flimsy. 

Even when he’s messy, though, Soderbergh is always worth watching. The way he structures scenes and ideas instigates reflection on how we live with a sense of observation rarely treated in American cinema. ■

Magic Mike’s Last Dance, directed by Steven Soderbergh

Magic Mike’s Last Dance opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 10

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