Fifty Shades Darker (Universal Pictures, R)

There’s a pretty astounding amount of nothing going on in this film.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is an editor’s assistant at a Seattle publisher. Her troubled ex, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), is a billionaire who likes beads (those kind of beads). Despite a complete lack of interest in a contractual BDSM relationship, Steele runs into the arms of Grey once again, even when his unshakably sadistic nature creates a permanent rift between them. These Fifty Shades stories are not stories. They are mind-numbing, disorganized sequences of deflated relationship drama. Even with subjects like sexual trauma, unstable power dynamics, and the role of consent in committed relationships, nothing gets the gravity or critical treatment needed for an erotic thriller, which this purports to be. And even with the premise being that Grey and Steele will attempt a conventional, “vanilla” relationship, the eroticism is so bland and pathetic that it feels almost like the whole movie concerns just a run-of-the-mill unhealthy relationship that won’t run its course. The two leads are not characters; they are bodies under the control of clueless filmmakers. This is reflected in the instances of romance and sexuality. They act like puppets of the casual pervert with no imagination. Words, sex, brief and unsatisfying event, barely kinky sex—there you have it, the foundation of boring soft-core porn.

There is no main conflict in the story, nor is there a climax. Rather, the film almost feels like a hodgepodge assembly of second act misdirections that were torn to ribbons in editing, leaving no trace of logical event progression. Sometimes trivial, sometimes jarringly catastrophic, the plot points are conjured up at random and are unwelcome and unprecedented by any type of previous information in the story. What’s worse is they are almost always inconsequential. I’m being serious when I say this is almost like a trimmed down, better shot version of The Room, just with all the humor sucked out. Don’t waste your time worrying about anything that happens to anyone (not very hard to do considering these characters have no personalities).

Dakota Johnson isn’t necessarily a bad actress. She’s not good in this, but I’m pretty confident that most of the awkward performances in this were due to the dialogue. We can’t even trust the screenwriter to give us a basic beginning, middle, and end. Of course, this is a sequel, but the complete sluggishness and lack of cohesion makes it look like you took a normal thriller movie and took out all of the interesting scenes, replacing them with underwhelming sex on camera.

In that sense, I don’t necessarily recommend the movie, but it’s not bad for the normal reason. I will say it is entertainingly baffling and goofy in some parts. If you get caught in a situation where you have to watch it, don’t fret. There weren’t only unintentionally comedic lines from my perspective. These were crowd pleasers. At the same time, sometimes the message that results from the endurance of Steele and Grey’s ultimately abusive relationship is one of submission being the norm. I’m not sure if they were trying to paint this point of view in a good light because it altogether comes across as neutral due to the complete absence of chemistry or deep traits in any of the characters. Grey is a sadist. Steele likes books you had to read in high school.  

So all in all, Fifty Shades Darker is about as horrible as you’d expect. I’m not really sure why they exist, but it looks like neither does anyone involved in the production. There’s a pretty astounding amount of nothing going on in this film. | Nic Champion    

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