Directed By James Foley Starring Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eric Johnson, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden
Film Review by Jack Bottomley
Well...in a year full of big sequels (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, War of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and reboots (Kong: Skull Island), we approach one that is pretty darn divisive. The Fifty Shades novels by E.L. James are - like it or not - one of the biggest literary adult phenomena's to emerge in years, garnering a reputation as taboo, sensual and exciting. Now whether that billing lives up to what is on the page is for the gazillions who read the books to decide but going by Sam Taylor-Johnson’s 2015 film adaptation, the billing and the truth are vastly different. Johnson’s film was tepid, toothless and (worse still) boring...but successful, so here comes Fifty Shades Darker.
This sequel sees fetishist billionaire CEO Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) try and reconnect desperately with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), as he deals with his dark obsessions and attempts to change his ways. However as Anastasia begins to get into his heart and teach him how to express real love, dark reminders of Christian’s past lurk around the corner. If this all sounds a bit more exciting or seductive, then it might well have been had there have been any emotional connection at all, alas there is about as much warmth here as a record setting chill in Antartica, to such an extent that even - though admittedly steamier - the sex cannot get any blood going.
If this film were honest about being a rampant sex fest then it would be fine but Niall Leonard’s screenplay seemingly tries to tell a story it thinks is psychologically deep and twisted and fails miserably. The love never blossoms because, no matter how much nookie you throw at the screen, the narrative is just a woeful piece of corporate pap. Nothing goes deeper than surface level, with cinematographer John Schwartzman working overtime to make things look good, and he does, the cinematography is great but the whole plot can be summarised as ‘shag, brood, party’. The plot is paper thin and built on odd foundations, with a relationship that feels stalky and one-sided, while the earlier scenes of romantic reunion are so caked in cringe that the dialogue would only be more embarrassing for these actors if they had to deliver it while dressed as salmon. While the later action/thriller esque developments are so forced they feel like the cast got bored and just decided to film “billionaires do the stupidest things’. Oh and that psychological/abused sub-plot is essentially resolved at a birthday party with champagne, a phone call and a hanky.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Fifty Shades Darker above.
There is a feeling that everyone here has really tried to make something out of this but - appropriately enough - the film feels shackled by its source material and this supposed craze is just a vanilla franchise. Johnson and Dornan look bewildered at points and it is as if nobody expected this franchise to be a success and now are just grinning and bearing it (maybe that is why Darker and next year’s Fifty Shades Freed were filmed back-to-back). Even the mid-credits scene is badly done and feels like someone accidentally slipped part of YouTube video on during the credits. Somewhere in all of this there is probably a very alluring, deadly and dangerous tale to be found but much like the infamous tits up Basic Instinct 2 (although, in fairness, Fifty Shades Darker is a slight improvement on that garbage) it is just sex scenes strung together with pretentiously naff melodrama that would make daytime Channel 5 programmers blush.
Some might say the ideal way to watch Fifty Shades Darker is blindfolded but even then you’ll have to listen to it, masochism indeed. Maybe this writer just doesn’t get it and yes many audiences seemed pleased at my screening but if you just want a film about sex, why not watch pornography or (heaven forfend) enjoy your own private time with a loved one?! In summary:Fifty Shades Darker is not fifty shades better.