The “Magic Mike” film series made its final, long-awaited return to the big screen with “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” on Feb. 10th. Initially set to be released via streaming on HBO Max, Warner Bros. Pictures decided to change this after its positive test screenings. Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh takes the reins back from Gregory Jacobs, setting up high expectations. Although the trilogy never garnered much critical acclaim, these were largely set in stone by devout appreciators for its respect and portrayal of a side of show business often looked down upon.

While the first two entries are rather overarching in their thematic presence, it is clear that this film is grounded in comparison. Revolving around Mike Lane’s (Channing Tatum) brief affair with a wealthy socialite, Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), their paths intertwine, leading to an intangible foreign feeling between the pair. Mike is forced to get back in the game after unsuccessfully attempting to keep his furniture business afloat due to the pandemic. The situation quickly escalates and Mike is placed in charge of directing a stage play — incomplete, of course, without an ensemble of male strippers.

One key change makes “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” surprisingly different in its messaging; this is contained within the focus shifting away from the previous locus of its antecedents. The story shines a rare and important light on female desire, acknowledging an overlooked theme with grace and passion. Ginuwine’s legendary song “Pony” also could have made a grander return, providing a perfect nostalgic segway to the old days. Mike’s streak of struggling to maintain meaningful relationships comes to an end here, leading the film’s plot to focus on his dynamic with Maxandra. The connection that alters such an important part of Mike’s character could have been explored through the stronger character development of the latter. Unfortunately, its absence hinders the time granted to further explore other important elements of why Mike’s work and artistry are so important.

This subject is only explored briefly in a short dialogue between Mike and of course, “The Kings of Tampa.” Only including the iconic posse in one scene is a missed opportunity — something that hardcore fans will find hard to let go of. As a result of this, the heavy lifting is left solely to Maxandra, whose characterization isn’t nearly as fleshed out. Despite Hayek’s good performance, the underdeveloped romance fails to resonate with the audience as much as it should have.

However, Soderbergh’s innate ability to control the camera stands out again, allowing the narrative to coincide with the visuals emphatically. One of the most prolific directors working today, this film is no stranger to his specific sense of precision, as his cinematography only reinforces this notion. Reid Carolin’s writing slightly drops in terms of its impact, partly due to the lack of positive male camaraderie that featured so heavily before in his work. The stakes are raised, divulging from the expected “hangout vibes” that come naturally to all those who exist in Mike Lane’s world.

Yet again, the excellence of the film lies within the brilliant dancing, with Tatum highlighting his seemingly unfading, perfect mastery of the art form. His ability to translate physical energy into pulsating waves of unfiltered emotion elevates each scene, serving as a simultaneous catharsis and way of unparalleled personal expression. Although the viewer doesn’t feel connected to the rest of the dancers, a key component that doesn’t set in until Mike’s final appearance, there’s no denying the familiar breathtaking skill on display.

The final result of this is a display of otherworldly spectacle in the rawest form. The choice for the final sequence to take place in a theater in contrast to a traditional revue setting highlights how much he has progressed from the beginning of his journey. Despite the unclarity of his new relationship, its sole presence granted a path for empathy to work its way into Mike’s talent. The water from the show washes away the past; he is himself once again. Even though the first and second acts are far in quality from the final performance, the most important goal is achieved — provide a resounding farewell. Times may change, and people may go, but the spirit of “Magic Mike” will remain forever.

Verdict: Although Soderbergh’s return to the franchise is the weakest of the series, Tatum’s screen presence and stunning sequences of choreography combine to create a worthy sendoff to the titular character.