I’m a little loss for words about Fifty Shades Darker, the second installment of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to hit the big screen this Valentine’s Day weekend. I’m not speechless over how good or bad the film is. Point blank, it is bad, but it’s just so appalling rudimentary that dwelling on the movie any longer might make me fall asleep. What was at the very least tantalizing and sensual in the first film is now gone in exchange for a wealth of questionable emotional drama that is sadistic in its own way.
Picking up a couple weeks after the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, we find Ana living independently with a new job. We don’t see signs of heartbreak over her break-up with Christian, and it’s not long until he shows up back in her life. Before we know it, Ana decides to give their relationship another chance when he promises a “vanilla” relationship, leaving behind his dominant/submissive lifestyle – sort of.
I understand why Fifty Shades is popular. It’s a fantasy. We have a young, wealthy and handsome man who is intensely in love with the object of his affections. But he’s also damaged so that he just doesn’t want her, but needs her as well. The book series puts readers in the head of its protagonist Anastasia Steele, and the feelings there are immense and overwhelming which feed into that fantasy element. With that in mind, the film forces a different perspective, and being out of Ana’s head allows viewers to see the main couple’s unhealthy dynamic more clearly.
I won’t insult the fans of the novel by saying that they all want a real life Christian Grey, only that they enjoy the thought of him. I know many friends who enjoy these movies but are smart enough to know that Ana and Christian’s relationship isn’t one to emulate. But even as a fantasy, Fifty Shades Darker is a boring one. The little intrigue Sam Taylor-Johnson was able to imbue in the first film has disappeared. Director James Foley adds zero visual flair, and he never finds the right balance between the story’s numerous subplots, so it all plays by the books and not once are we concerned that any of these new nefarious characters would get in Ana and Christian’s way. The sex scenes play it safe; cinema has given us much more sensual scenes with clothes on than the ones in Fifty Shades Darker. And finally, did we need two (or was it three?) marriage proposal scenes?
What is more funny than The Chronicles of Riddick poster in Christian’s bedroom is that Fifty Shades Darker is in no way darker tonally or literally than the first film. Using Christian’s traumatic childhood as a reason for his behavior today never lands on the audience (since we’re quickly whisked away into another pointless subplot). In a somewhat positive light, Jamie Dornan definitely feels more comfortable as Grey, offering a less stilted and lighter performance than the first time around – even if it doesn’t quite fit the character. If you’ve seen Dornan in The Fall, like me, you’d find it perplexing that he can’t channel the quiet, menacing charm that a character like Christian Grey would exude.
Dakota Johnson is the true highlight of this series. She clearly has inherited her mother’s screen presence, a distinctly feminine allure that reels the audience in no matter what. In fact, the movie borrows a scene from Melanie Griffith’s Working Girl, when Ana lands a promotion at work after her boss is fired for sexually harassing her. The fact that they took the scene in which Griffith’s character – after facing a deluge of sexism and classism – lands the job she deserves whereas Ana lands a promotion by accident at a company that her boyfriend owns is a tad insulting.
At the very end, after the credits, a quick sneak peek of Fifty Shades Freed is teased. It doesn’t look any different than the movie I had just watched, and it makes me mad and annoyed that women entertainment is diminishing more and more in Hollywood. The Fifty Shades and Twilight series don’t make great cases for women’s entertainment quality-wise, but they do prove that there is a very strong market out there, one desperate for breath-taking romance, fascinating leads, and an engaging cinematic experience. Come on, let’s get a good one in here for the girls.
Fifty Shades Darker is now playing in theaters.