Was it all a dream? Is the nightmare finally over? These were thoughts that immediately came to mind as soon as the lights turned on after Fifty Shades Freed, the third and (hopefully) final installment in the series based on E.L. James’ erotic novels. It’s doubtful anyone can say they outright love the series. Even the wedding party personally invited to screen the film – who supposedly had to have a Fifty Shades-themed wedding in order to have the honor – was unimpressed. The groom literally said, “That’s the first time I’ve fallen asleep at a movie with a naked woman in it.” In all honesty, Fifty Shades Freed is probably the best of the franchise – best being a low bar for these features – due to the knowledge that everyone is being set free. In the end, we can all pretend these movies never happened.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her kinky businessman boyfriend Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) finally tie the knot. But the honeymoon is cut short when the evil Jack Hyde (Max Martini), Ana’s former boss, starts to threaten Ana for reasons unknown.
When asked if one needs to be current on the previous two features to understand Fifty Shades Freed the answer is, “Why would you,” first off, followed by “no.” James Foley returns to direct this last film after helming the previous entry, Fifty Shades Darker, and the movie makes a point of filling in the gaps with characters discussing previous events and a closing montage of all three films that should make the director of the last Twilight movie cry “copyright infringement.”
Fifty Shades Freed doesn’t seem particularly interested in doing more than closing things out, as evidenced by its opening fifteen minutes that condense a wedding and honeymoon. Ana and Christian exchange vows, with Christian’s vows about “respecting” Ana setting him up for failure. The two travel to Paris, with a montage of beaches, opulent hotels, and other things that act as product placement for the country as the honeymoon destination. The two even have time to squeeze in a kinky quickie in the first five minutes. But reality, in this case the film’s cartoon-named villain Jack Hyde, comes to remind them that they actually have problems.
By this point stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are old hat, practically married before they say their vows. Dornan, for his part, is on par with his performance from the previous films. His affect is flat and he’s generally present to look good in a pair of jeans and \mask his character’s manipulation as “caring.” Grey’s character is slowly breaking down the walls between him and his wife, and though it might charm some ladies to hear Dornan croon a rendition of “Baby, I’m Amazed” that Paul McCartney had to be high to approve, his character’s crass control over Ana hits epic levels. A sex scene where Christian uses orgasm denial as a means of revenge has all the gravity of a rape scene. Christian’s attempts to limit Ana’s movements and deny her friends ends up making him look more manipulative than usual, culminating with him bringing Ana’s friends on a trip…because apparently she can only see them if he’s around.
Thankfully Dakota Johnson will go on to have a fruitful career because she’s made all three of these movies tolerable. She does some of her greatest work in this one, attempting to elevate Ana to a point of humanity. The script has moments where it understands the criticisms lobbed against it. So Ana will challenge Christian, arguing with him about his control and mistreatment of her in a way that’s logical, passionate, and appropriate for the situation. Unfortunately, the yoke that is needing E.L. James’ approval always returns, making Ana back down. Johnson, though, is flawless. She understands how to make lines funny and sweet. A particular argument with Christian gives Johnson a true chance to slay, cutting him down to size; it’s just a shame that said argument involves her being topless. (The abundance of gratuitous Johnson nudity is disturbing, especially considering the pains made to keep Dornan covered.)
The moments you’ve come to expect from the Fifty Shades series remain on full display: Christian’s smothering control perceived as “love;” Ana having to defend her male territory against another woman, usually a blonde; wealth elevated to the status of pornography; and some light BDSM. Make no mistake, the latter is the least interesting part of this movie, more than it was in the other features, so that will either disappoint or relieve you.
Fifty Shades Freed wraps up everything in a nice black bow. There’s nothing unpredictable or particularly enticing here, yet there’s nothing as outlandishly outrageous to make fun on on par with the previous films. The Greys become the old married couple who are so boring that even their sex doesn’t look particularly new anymore. If you’ve followed the series, it’s tied you up for years and you loved it. If you’ve only watched these movies to mock them, you can move on.