Directed by James Foley
Starring Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Kim Basinger
I’m not entirely sure when I offended every muse of cinema, theatre, and writing, but apparently I did. For my sins they have sent Fifty Shades Darker, and it is certainly harsh and cruel punishment. I apologise to fans of the book here, and to the film series – I’m definitely not the target demographic, and that will have some impact here as we fall into the standard cliché of a critic bagging this series. Sorry, but it’s just an awful film.
After a disastrous first attempt at a relationship with the mysterious Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Ana (Dakota Johnson) has moved on with her life. Working as an assistant at a publishing company, she is proving her value, even if her boss may have alternative motives. When her former billionaire lover (and bondage enthusiast) Christian Grey re-enters her life, it is thrown into chaos. He has realised how precious she is to him, and seeks to re-establish the relationship through a second contract.
The sequel to E L James’ best-selling novel 50 Shades Of Grey (and the subsequent 2015 film adaptation) hits the cinemas with a squelch. Here character development, continuity, dramatic tension all don’t matter a damn. It’s stunning what a badly written script this actually is. Case in point, one scene is a helicopter crash involving Christian Grey. This unites Ana with the Grey family, and is a scene with the possibility of tension and character dynamics, as they bond over a shared concern for a loved one – then Christian walks in the door just a little dirtier for the adventure. Elapsed time, maybe 3 minutes. It is a wasted opportunity to explore the characters, their motivation and dreams, and build dramatic tension. Worse still, this is just one of many, as Fifty Shades throws a plethora of under-cooked elements at the wall, while developing none. It is like a young child telling a story, with the constant refrain of “and then this happened”, save someone paid James handsomely for the effort.
Maybe that’s not what this tale is about, maybe it’s just an erotic romance? Well, it’s hard to imagine a worse suited couple. It’s difficult to hear the dialogue (which is actually a blessing) with the continuous sound of alarm bells ringing in your head every time you see this partnership. The power and experience differential between the two characters is staggering, with the favour going to the billionaire, sadist, control freak, with a mother fixation. It may be fantasy, but that can’t be a healthy relationship.
True it is said that Anna is special, but it’s difficult to see any proof of this besides the constant repetition of this by minor characters. Although that is not entirely the fault of the script. Johnson and Dornan look perpetually bored, walking through the film as if the craft service table was loaded with Diazepam. Somehow they violate the rules of static electricity, because after hours of rubbing up on carpet and sheets, they are incapable of creating the slightest spark.
Even the eroticism is fairly stale. Other than their realisation that there are interior designers hired to create bondage rooms, there is nothing here that is new or shocking. Given the series’ reputation, this is all rather vanilla. Which may be the worse thing this film has to offer. Stripped of that titillation, every other fault is displayed in sharp contrast. This leaves a product that is not only bad, but worse still – dull.
The film series that tries to convince you that B/D stands for “beige disappointment”, 50 Shades Darker manages to completely drain the passion out of a room. Woeful.