By now you have at least heard of E.L. James’ erotic trilogy about a tortured billionaire with inner demons so intense, he can’t help but spank and whip those who agree to be his submissive. The first part, Fifty Shades of Grey, introduced us to Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his Red Room of Pain. He was used to doing things his way until Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) changed him. Or did he change her? The ultimate question these movies can’t figure out.
The second installment, Fifty Shades Darker, is a curious title for a much softer film. Sure, there’s still those adult toys and even a little spanking but this time around Christian and Anastasia are trying to have a go at being a real couple. The last ended with her leaving him but he’s ready to have her back. She is briefly hesitant but quickly comes around to wanting to be back with Christian. They’re going to be a normal couple this time; he’s ready to change. They make dinner and go grocery shopping and it’s all so precious.
Pointing out the fact that Fifty Shades Darker isn’t a very good film would be a waste of space in this review because, much like the books, these aren’t movies to be taken seriously. The clunky dialogue, the outlandish scenarios and dramatic revelations are presented to us in a way to pull us into Christian and Anastasia’s lives but they are so mundanely presented that it’s never clear why we are supposed to care about these two people.
Dornan and Johnson struggled to create a flash of spark in the first film and they aren’t quite simpatico yet. When you are given a ridiculous erotic melodrama, the key ingredient to making it work for viewers is the chemistry between the stars. Here, the actors seem like they want to be anywhere else but making these movies. She’s asked to be mousy and innocent and he’s asked to be wooden and closed-off. In that sense, they both succeed in their performances but it doesn’t ever create a compelling watch.
Fifty Shades Darker presents glimpses into Christian’s past in an effort to add layers to the character but they are far too fleeting to resonate. Women from his past, including Elena (Kim Basinger), who taught him everything he knows, and an ex-submissive (Bella Heathcote), show up to present conflict. Any chance the movie has to capitalize on tension, it shies away from doing so because it’s so eager to get back to watching Christian and Anastasia chop vegetables.
Director James Foley takes over from Sam Taylor-Johnson, who brought a crisp gloss to the first film. Foley’s direction is straightforward but lacks the visual pizazz Taylor-Johnson was able to bring with her background as an artist. It was something that at least made the first movie interesting to look at. Here, everything is edited together so haphazardly, with Foley lingering too long in some areas and quickly moving on to the next scene without any coherent flow.
So, no, Fifty Shades Darker isn’t a very good film. At two hours, it seems like an eternity, with multiple endings leading up the inevitable cliffhanger ahead of the third film. You are certain to get some giggles out of the film’s absurd dialogue and melodrama but it’s a problem when that’s not really the intended purpose of the film.
One more of these movies left, and I have to think no one is more excited to hear that then Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.