Film Review: Fifty Shades Darker (MA15+) (USA, 2017) is a better film, but does it go anywhere?

“Are you just going to stand there and stare Christian Grey”? Anastasia Steele asks a tall well-dressed Christian Grey. “Yes”, he replies. Cue another sensually slow, but saucy scene where the two embrace and then another few roughly edited scenes later, we’re back at Steele’s work office, or a bar with her friends, as we cut back to Grey waiting for her to return.

This is Fifty Shades Darker! There really isn’t much more to it. An infatuation of love between two complete opposites that find comfort in each other’s arms and/or restraints.

The plot goes as follows: When a wounded Christian Grey tries to entice a cautious Ana Steele back into his life, she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian’s past start to circle the couple, determined to destroy their hopes for a future together.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles!

The marketing for this film sets a much darker tone than the original, a mystery thriller vibe, and I was silly enough to go along with it. It must be said, none of that happens and it’s rather disappointing. The so-called mystery comes and goes so fast the entire outcome is wasted on all its characters. A throw away villain played by Eric Johnson is introduced and even that gets kicked aside and we don’t hear about it again, racing back to our characters in case any of the audience gets lost in an actual plot (god forbid). The film doesn’t seem to grow where it needs to and maybe I was expecting way too much but it ends pretty much where it started in the first twenty minutes.

If you’re OK with this, you’re going to enjoy it a lot more than I did. That’s not to say I didn’t, I can’t help liking the seriously cheesy lines and the Pretty Woman rich man meets woman plot thread even if it is far from original and in a few moments, whether the film means to or not, it is laugh out loud hilarious.

On a blank piece of paper, it could just as well be about a man who is obsessive, possessive and abusive to his partner. I know which way the book and the film lean towards and what it wants you to think and I’m more than happy to go along with it and see it the way it was intended. Not the way others want you to see it. This sequel builds on the first in a way I didn’t see, Christian is broken and he is changing his old ways because he knows if he doesn’t he will lose Steele for good. In fact, there isn’t one scene in this film that has Ana being forced into anything she isn’t willing, in fact Ana asks for a lot of the risky scenes in this scene; she wants him like no one’s business.

I cut past all the B.S. that will be said about how bad this film is towards women. Before you start getting angry, I am completely against violence and mental abuse on women and against men in any form. It’s 2017, not 1880. But Fifty Shades isn’t as black and white as that. Anyone that speaks ill in that regards hasn’t seen the film or doesn’t want to. To be honest no one needs to. But It isn’t about a man that beats up a woman till she says yes. Anastacia Steele loves this man and she knows he’s tormented and in some crazy ideological way wants to help him. Hey, it’s an adult novel, not Edgar Allan Poe, and it knows it’s never going to win any Oscars.

The soon to be famous Elevator Scene

 

I don’t even try to understand this crazy dark world it shows, it’s not for me. When taken from the pages of E.L James, Fifty Shades Darker is about a damaged man that was badly abused as a child and had come to take out all his emotions in the form of domination and submissive acts on the verge of sadism. It’s wierd, it’s wrong to a lot of people and this sequel explores it and tries to explain more than the original ever tried to.

The film holds back a lot from the original as well even if it does look riskier. Fifty Shades Darker is now directed by James Foley (Fear, House of Cards) and Foley handles the source material to the best of his ability. Some scenes suffer from what seems like some seriously terrible last minute editing and don’t make sense at all in the final cut. When you see the helicopter scene you will understand what I mean. Something seems lost in transition.

Now back to the stars. The gorgeous Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) delivers her teeth grinding lines so well I couldn’t help but stare in awe, this movie is too good for her (and we know she knows this). Dakota adds amazing width to her acting, her gaze is stunning, her awkward sounds she lets slip out in certain circumstances is so very cute. I’m not going to lie, she looks amazing in and out of costume and not because ‘oh wow it’s a naked woman’ but because she encapsulates a strong, smart one even when she’s bare. A woman that tries so hard to understand why Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is the way he is and how to change him.

Dorman seems to be more comfortable this time around and some may be happy to hear how much more he speaks in this sequel, some may not! He does seem lost and whether that’s a good act for his character or it’s the predictable script that doesn’t seem to want to go anywhere off the beaten track I will never know. Oh did I mention Kim Basinger was in this? Never mind, she doesn’t really do much because we need to go back to the main characters again so quickly.

Kim Bassinger plays Mr Grey’s old teacher!

The audience is left unsure of where this franchise is going and the idea of leaving a decent cliff-hanger went out the door along with Christian’s shirt. There isn’t much to bring you back if you’re not invested by now. The audience will be back, even if this really does feel like the end of the trilogy dropped right into the middle. Fifty Shades is very much like that couple everyone follows on the news, will they, or won’t they? Are they still together? What happened to them anyway? You either care or you don’t.

No matter the arguments on what this movie brings or doesn’t bring, its fantasy the same as Vampires biting into people’s necks and staring at them through windows. It is the same as all those other laughable romantic comedies that has an asshole male ego character that turns around and becomes a knight in shining armour to a woman that changed them. But watch out, this one has a little bit more than naked bottoms. I don’t know why, maybe it’s Dakota Johnson’s eyes, but I am on board until the inevitable final chapter.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Fifty Shades Darker is out now in Australian Cinemas