Let’s be honest with one another–the Fifty Shades series is an easy target for snarky critics. There’s not much of a challenge in sitting down and pinpointing every illogical turn the movie takes and every laughable line of dialogue uttered by actors who seem as tickled about what they are saying as we are hearing it. It’s hard to take a breath, collect oneself and approach a movie like Fifty Shades Darker and pick out why you should see it–and trust me, no one involved has made it easy.
For every one thing good you can say about James Foley’s film there are a handful more pushing into the spotlight to ruining it for the rest of us. Yet we march on–Fifty Shades Darker picks up shortly after the first film as Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) continues to creepily pine for the plain Jane, Anastasia (Dakota Johnson). After a half-hearted attempt to brush him off, Anastasia agrees to meet with Christian to renegotiate the terms of their “arrangement”. As they embark on their new relationship Christian’s past and Anastasia’s vanilla sex appeal proves to be a little more complicated than they anticipated.
At its center Fifty Shades Darker is about sex. Some starry-eyed romantic might try to argue and say it’s about love, but the appeal of these first two movies is the taboo. It’s all but perfectly clear the audiences love the idea of feeling naughty and sitting in a crowded theater enjoying the communal experience of watching two people straight up get…it…on, has a risqué flair to it. It’s kind of like inviting a bunch of strangers into your house and watching Cinemax after dark and just short of the golden age of the porn theater. However Fifty Shades Darker is tamer than it rightfully should be.
Having not read the books, there’s an assumption that the literature is afforded some steamier sequences than the MPAA will allow for consenting adults to absorb with their eyes. Foley’s eye for provocative sex is abnormal in its banality. Supposedly that is the the signature of Anastasia as a character, the vanilla girl who attempts to tame a kinky deviant–yet Anastasia is painted as anything but vanilla, aside from her proclivity for the missionary position. Still her life is the opposite of boring. She’s persistently wooed by a billionaire who is the Batman of S&M–we should all be so boring. Did I mention she’s inexplicably caught the eye of her boss? Who objectifies his subordinate right in front of HR–but he’s good looking, so it’s cool, ya know.
Buried somewhere in this saga there is a good story of empowerment that too could have potential for titillating adventures, but the long and the short of it is that two movies in no one has her dig it up. Foley does somehow manage to capture some inspired passion by straying outside the lines of his paint-by-numbers outline, but reels things back inside the safety of the imaginary boundaries forged by the evil doers at the MPAA–or at least that’s this viewers perspective at why the sex is more lukewarm than hot n’ steamy.
Fifty Shades Darker’s biggest sin is not simply that it’s boring, it’s that it presents interesting conflict but has no idea how to let its juicy bits air out in the open for the audience to contemplate and absorb. The good news is that the film has a built in audience that’s foaming at the mouth to get a glimpse of Jaimie Dornan in the buff and be happy with whatever amount of naughty kink they get. Those sitting down attached at the arm to one of those audience members will not be as enthralled even with the amount of time Dakota Johnson spends wearing next to nothing–and making eye contact with anyone as you walk out makes for suitably awkward moments. Fifty Shades Darker simply is what it is, pulpy erotic entertainment meant to satisfy a specific audience. It’s not particularly well made artistically and lacks an intriguing hook for outsiders so if you’re a fan of the books my guess is that this will scratch the itch your looking for. The rest of us might just need to supplement with the cavalcade of free adult oriented content readily available on the internet to “get there” when it’s over.
Beer Recommendation: None at this time. Sorry pervs.