Release Date: February 10, 2017
Director: James Foley
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 118 minutes
Though its title may suggest it, Fifty Shades Darker is no more profound or intense than its predecessor. It is, however, nearly as unintentionally hilarious as Fifty Shades of Grey. The BDSM fairy tale never feels dangerous or edgy and the film has a slick soap opera sheen with one-dimensional characters moving through clichéd romantic drama and delivering ridiculous dialogue. They also stare longingly a lot.
The non-ending of the first film found Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) walking out on weirdo billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after an unsatisfying whipping session in his red room/kinky sex dungeon. This serious emotional upheaval is solved within the first few minutes of the sequel. When Christian appears with sad eyes and five o’clock shadow Ana immediately takes him back. Quick fixing of non-conflicts is a theme throughout. When considering the haphazard story, it seems pertinent to recall that the Fifty Shades novels began as Twilight fan fiction with vampires and mortals replaced with dominants and submissives.
There isn’t so much a plot as there is a bunch of stuff that happens with little palpable drama. An ex (Bella Heathcote) damaged by Mr. Grey stalks Ana occasionally, her skeevy new boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) – that’s “Mr. Hyde” – is creepy for a few scenes, and the cougar who showed Christian the BDSM ropes (Kim Basinger) is a potential obstacle.
Johnson and Basinger have a couple of interactions that momentarily suggest glorious trash, but the drink throwing and eye-dagger-shooting are played too straight to truly appreciate. Johnson and Dornan, however, create very little steam and it’s never clear why their characters are drawn to each other. Sure, they’re opposites and may be intriguing to one another but there’s no logical or primal reason for these damaged souls to be kindred. It certainly doesn’t help that Dornan’s brooding doesn’t come close to matching Johnson’s earnestness.
The sex scenes are more graphic than most modern erotic dramas and show a lot of skin, but the shallowness between the encounters make them more perfunctory than titillating. All these two discuss is themselves, mostly about how Christian’s past made him the jerk he is today. There isn’t a single genuine relationship moment between them and only minor hints of wit. It’s a chore to hang out with them.
Director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) dutifully moves things from one power pop song interlude to the next, adding some elegance with God’s eye shots and an intense moment involving a gun that actually provides a jump, but there’s just too much muck to wade through to maintain any consistent tone or filmmaking flair.
Of course, the entire fantasy is flawed with a repulsive, dominant male engaging in wish-fulfillment with an obedient lover who thinks she may be able to “fix” him. With Fifty Shades, though, it’s tough to be too offended when there’s a complete lack of substance surrounding the noxiousness. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually buying into the illusion. Especially considering how the film alternates between boring and ludicrous.
A harrowing situation involving a helicopter crash comes completely out of nowhere and quashes any sense of reality (and, frankly, sound narrative judgement). The neat, nearly immediate, resolution to this situation contains zero drama and many confounding flaws.
Fifty Shades Darker doesn’t care about making sense and there’s nothing within its shoddy structure that’s worth making sense of.