Fifty Shades Darker Review
A FIFTY-SHADED SEQUEL
Love, romance, sex, and the some awaked sexual frivolous in BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism). Yes, I’m talking about the very alluring and conflicted relationship of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele from the film Fifty Shades of Grey. Based on the uber popular best-selling books from E.L. James (Erika Mitchell), Fifty Shades of Grey followed the young Anastasia Steele and her ambiguous courtship with the mysterious Christian Grey, a man whose late-night sexual activities are not of the normal garden variety, with Ms. Steele’s difficult choice of partaking of in Christian’s taboo temptations. While the book was celebrated in the literary world (selling millions of copies), the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey was bit “meh” by fans and critics. Maybe it was because of its similar narrative to Twilight (yes, I know the Fifty Shades books started out as Twilight fan fiction), the somewhat “tamed” sex scenes, or the wooden performances from its lead (and its laughable dialogue). Despite heavy criticism and being branded by many as a film that’s mediocre at best or terrible at worst, Fifty Shades of Grey did score big at the box office, collectively raking in roughly $ 571 million worldwide. Now, after two years since its initial release, Universal Pictures and director James Foley present the next chapter of popular Fifty Shades series with the film Fifty Shades Darker. Does this latest feature provide to better than the last one or has the overall fascination with Christian and Anastasia’s courtship gone out of sight and out of mind with current moviegoers?
After abruptly ending her ambiguous affair with billionaire playboy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) moves on with her life, accepting a job as an assistant to book publisher Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who has a “special” eye on his new hire secretary. However, Christian is too infatuated with Ana, begging for second chance and ultimately agrees to a “vanilla” relationship with Ms. Steele. The pair find themselves reigniting their passions with one another, finding more traditional sexual encounters and bits of relationship jealousy. Unfortunately, return to Christian’s world invites trouble for Ana, growing concerned with mysterious appearance of Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote), one of Christian’s former “subs” who still isn’t over Grey’s rejection of her as well as the harsh warnings from Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the women who introduced Christian to the BDSM lifestyle. Avoiding Jack’s advances at work and trying to find her place Christian’s complex life, Ana begins to pull apart the web around Grey’s secretive past, trying to find the man she wants behind his extreme “red room” tastes and fear of abandonment. However, the deeper she goes into finding more about Christian, the deeper she gets pull into his world of mystery and taboo sexual activities.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Despite its financial box office success, there are few people who will argue that Fifty Shades of Grey was a spectacular movie. In truth, it’s the polar opposite, with many calling it a “bad movie” or “one of the worst movies of 2015”. Personally, I was one of those people, making Fifty Shades of Grey #8 on my “Top 10 Worst Movies of 2015”. Of course, didn’t see it theaters, but I waited for it to come out on home media and rented it (via a digital download from iTunes). Like I said in my review (check it out HERE), the movie was less-than steamy, with tamed sexual scenes, a weak script (a plethora of laughable dialogue), and wooden / uninteresting main characters. For being one of the most anticipated movies of that year, it was a downright bore and unappealing as either movie entertainment or pure cinematic escapism. However, I wasn’t expecting anything truly fantastic from this “page to screen” adaptation, so there was “no love lost” over my feelings for this particular movie. This, of course, brings me to the present with its follow-up sequel Fifty Shades Darker. Seeing the trailers in theaters (multiple times over the last few months) didn’t really build much excitement for me to get “hyped” for this new movie. The first film left a sour taste in my mouth and continuing the romantic escapades of Christian and Anastasia seems uninteresting to me. However, being an aspiring movie reviewer, I took a “wild shot in the dark” and purchase a movie ticket to see the sequel in theaters. Yes, I actually saw the movie in theaters, with my local theater filled with rowdy (and horny) middle age women (I think I was the only guy in theater). Anyway, the big question…. what did I think of it? Well, to be honest, Fifty Shades Darker is exactly the same as Fifty Shades of Grey, complete with all its strengths (what little there is) and all of its weaknesses. Basically, it’s just as bad as the first one.
While Sam Taylor-Johnson directed the first film, director James Foley, who’s previous works include directing the movies Fear and Perfect Stranger as well as several TV series like Netflix’s House of Cards and Showtime’s Billions, helms Fifty Shades Darker (as well as the upcoming sequel Fifty Shades Freed). One would hope that Foley would provide a “fresh perspective” on the franchise, taking note of the negative points from the 2015 film and translate that into something more pleasing with Darker. Unfortunately, Foley really doesn’t do that and keeps mostly everything the same “status quo” from the first movie in Darker. This means that all the negative remarks and criticism from its predecessor return (with a vengeance) and with glaring noticeably. Before I go any further in my review, I have to mention that I haven’t read any of the Fifty Shades books (and don’t plan to). Thus, my review is strictly based on the movie aspect of Fifty Shades Darker and not on what was cut, change, or omitted from book to film.
As I was saying, Darker, despite further developing and continuing the narrative of Christian and Anastasia’s courtship, feels (for the most part) a fully retread of the last movie in both story, character motivation, and sexual encounters. With film’s script penned by screenwriter Niall Leonard, the movie does throw some new ideas into the mix (i.e. a new potential rival love interest, Ana confronting two different females from Christian’s past, a building to a more poignant climax than the previous movie), but the film just has a lot of “déjà vu” throughout the entire feature. It’s a repetitive nature that Foley follows that ultimately becomes the main negative criticism in Darker. Here’s an example of the repetitive narrative: Ana falls for Christian (again), she and him are flirtatious for a scene or two, and then a secret revealed (which causes Ana to get miffed at him), then they have sex, and then (the next morning) Ana’s somewhat cheeky with Christian and the cycle repeats itself. That’s basics of it all. In addition to those new side-story sub-plots, there never fully realized in this movie. There introduces and brought up in the foreground of the main narrative (for time) before being dismissed. I assume that they’ll be further developed in the upcoming sequel, but they just lack sustainable substance in Darker.
In truth, the movie never expands on the “why” the pair are really infatuated with each other. At the end of the last movie, Ana, disgusted by Christian’s sexual ticks, leaves, but we see her in this movie willingly partake in more “red room” sexual situations with Grey. I’m confused on what’s her character motivations…are you? Sounds like she’s regressing rather than evolving. Likewise, Christian never fully states why he’s completely taken with Ana. I know she’s different from the previous girls he’s been with in the past, but what makes her so special that he would somewhat “suppress” his sexual joys just to be with her. Again, Darker doesn’t really answer those questions and follows the same narrative beats from the first film, which basically makes the two characters flat and uninteresting.
In the last film, the sexual encounters between Anastasia and Christian were (for tense and purpose) pretty tamed and watered down, which is a bit off-putting since the Fifty Shade novels were hailed as being explicit in the sex scenes. In Darker, Foley does take a step forward and pushes the more exotic thrills, seeing Ana and Christian utilize more sexual and BDSM objects in their affair. Thus, it brings that aspect forward, but still is somewhat tamed with the movie suggesting stuff is happen and doesn’t completely show the sexual aspect full force. Now, I don’t expect Darker to become fully realized X-rated porno, but I’ve seen more explicit scenes in premium channel TV shows (i.e. HBO’s Game of Thrones and Starz’s Spartacus and Outlander).
Overall, the script in Darker is pretty weak, which doesn’t help the cast of the film when their saying those poorly written lines of dialogue, making it almost laughable to hear. This, in turn, affects the characters and (by proximity) the actors. Headline the movie (again) is actress Dakota Johnson and actor Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Unfortunately, this second go-round of these two characters is still left appealing with both Johnson and Dornan feeling hollow in their respective characters. Both are handsome individuals, which the physical outward appearances of Ana and Christian. However, both actor and actress have zero chemistry with one another, making their romantic connection very clunky, forced, and very hard for a viewer to buy into. Like before, Johnson’s Ana has bit more playful moments with her cheeky humorous remarks and the like, but some of her lines come off of a cheesy and off-putting. The same goes for Dornan’s Christian, who is still very much wooden throughout most of the picture and spouts some serious lines that come off as silly rather than meaningful. Both are still committed to their roles (from onset to conclusion), but with film’s biggest selling point hinges on the pairing of these two, Johnson and Dornan fail to ignite romantic sparks in a believable way.
In supporting roles, Darker brings three new characters into focus or rather half-focus. First is the character of Jack Hyde, Ana’s publisher boss, who is played Eric Johnson, known for his work TV shows like Rookie Blue and The Knick. From the get-go, it’s made painfully obvious that Johnson’s Jack is “bad trouble” and sort of like an antagonist in the movie, but (like so many other things wrong with this movie), the character just seems like footnote as we (the viewer) never fully see the reasoning on why he’s taken with Ana. Seriously…what is so special about Anastasia Steele? In addition, Johnson looks like actor Chris Pine (or rather an uglier distant cousin of Chris Pine). Next, the character of Leila Williams, an psychotic old flame of Christians and played by actress Bella Heathcote has minimal presence in the film (she just lurks around here and there) and her character is pretty much kept to a the bare bones with not enough substance to be memorable. Lastly, Kim Basinger makes an appearance in the film as the mysterious Elena Lincoln (the woman who was hinted in the last film and the one who made Christian into the person he is today). Of three (Johnson, Heathcote, and Basinger), Basinger’s Elena makes the most lasting impression (at least on me that is). However, her scenes in Darker (like Johnson’s Jack) seem to be setup material for the next installment. The rest of the cast is returning side characters from the first film. This includes, Luke Grimes and Rita Ora as Elliot and Mia Grey (Christian’s adopted brother and sister), Marcia Gay Harden as Christian’s adopted mother Grace Trevelyan-Grey, Eloise Mumford as Anastasia’s BF Kate, and Max Martini as Jason Taylor, Christian’s driver and personal bodyguard / head of security. These actors and actress have small roles in the movie, but do their best in their limited screen time, adding continuity of familiar faces from Grey to Darker.
Like the Fifty Shades of Grey, one of the positives in Darker is the technical presentation and the musical selection. While the story and characters might not be overall appealing, the film is actual is pleasingly well-made. Sure, it won’t win any awards or be nominated for anything in those categories, but from its camera angles, to cinematography, to its editing, to costume designs, to set pieces, the film is still well-made and do have to mark that as a positive. The same goes for the musical songs used in the movie. Like in Grey, Darker’s music selection plays important part with a carrousel of modern songs of romantic and temptation, which fit all the movie’s scenes, especially all the sex scenes. This include ZAYN & Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”, Sia’s “Helium”, The Avener’s “I Need a Good One”, and Halsey’s “Not Afraid Anymore”. All in all, the songs used in the film are pretty good (probably better than what’s happening on-screen) as I would recommend buying and / or download the soundtrack rather seeing Fifty Shades Darker. Still, none of these songs can beat out Elle Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey. Just my personal opinion.
Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey reconnect and rekindled their explicit relationship in the movie Fifty Shades Darker. Director James Foley’s newest film brings the second chapter in E.L. James popular bestselling to life, continuing and expanding the narrative of the first film (introducing new problems and further deepening Christian’s dark past) as well as presenting the film with a slick presentation and a great musical song selections. Unfortunately, like the last movie, that’s pretty much it, finding the rest of the film uninteresting and boring. From its laughable dialogue, to its main leads (wooden to the touch) lacking on-screen chemistry, and a weak narrative (with a bit more proactive, but still unappealing sexual scenes), Fifty Shades Darker is an unappealing sequel. As you can tell, I didn’t not like this movie. Of course, fans of the books will probably be pleased with the movie (I’m assuming that they will). However, for everyone else, just simply skipping the movie altogether is the best course of action. If you were tempted by sheer curiosity to see the first film (whether seeing it in theaters, buying it, or renting it), Fifty Shades Darker will do little to fuel that same curiosity again. With Fifty Shades Freed, the final installment in the trilogy, due out next year, will audience really care to see what becomes of Anastasia and Christian and of their confusing back and forth relationship? Who knows. For now, Fifty Shades Darker is a flat-out uninspiring sequel to its already terrible (and laughable) predecessor; a fifty-shaded sequel of redundancy.
2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: February 10th, 2017
Reviewed On: February 10th, 2017
Fifty Shades Darker is 115 minutes long and is rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language