'Fifty Shades Darker'
How bad is ‘Fifty Shades Darker’? Bad enough that it actually made me consider the positive qualities of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Don’t get me wrong, that bondage romance was absolute drivel, but at least director Sam Taylor-Johnson brought some fetishistic glee to the visuals and inserted some mild arch humor to suggest it was all in good fun.
The first movie was trash, but trash perpetrated by a filmmaker who knew what she was doing and why that trash held a certain appeal. ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ doesn’t even have those mild qualities to inspire any apologetic sympathy for its makers. This is softcore porn with a budget, a Hollywood sanctioned sex scene delivery system, and not even a good one. It’s a garbage movie based on a garbage book that doesn’t even bother to have fun with its sleaziness. It’s hard to say who is more exploited, the cast who attempt to commit to the nonsense script they’ve been handed, or the audience that seems to think the faux kink fantasy shoved down their throats is even remotely worth swallowing.
Since the last time we checked in on the ludicrously-named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, who will hopefully at least get a career after this trilogy of humiliation), she’s been doing OK! The mousy sweetheart got a job at a publishing house and seems to have at least acquired the illusion of self-confidence. During an embarrassing trip to a photography exhibition by a hard-crushing friend, she’s reunited with billionaire tie-up bad boy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, an actor possessing the charisma of freshly squeezed poo). As the stubble on his face suggests, he’s had it rough since the end of their BDSM relationship. He needs Anastasia in his life so badly that he’s willing to give up his bondage-loving ways to get her back. Ms. Steele is hesitant at first, but since Mr. Grey is so goddamn handsome and cut and wealthy and in need, she throws the dog a bone.
That means it’s time for a sex scene followed by ten minutes of mind-numbing plot followed by another sex scene, etc. Given that this is the middle chapter of a trilogy, you might think it would have a narrative. Not so much. At least half of the clothed scenes in the movie are dedicated to Anastasia Steele’s burgeoning editing career. At first, that mostly involves fighting off the rapey advances of a boss who’s a walking sexual harassment lawsuit (Eric Johnson, hunky, wooden, dull). Then it involves her making passing reference to the online followings of potential authors in editorial meetings that have her instantly labeled a genius. Oh, Christian Grey gets in a helicopter crash, which at least sounds like it could be cinematic and exciting. Not really, though. Not only do audiences not get to see the crash or the rescue, but the dude just walks through the door of his apartment with a mild blood stain on his temple as the action climax of the movie. Good lord is this mess ever boring.
There is sex, though, and lots of it. Every ten to fifteen minutes like clockwork, Ana and Christian get their clothes off and awkwardly rub against each other while a horrible pop song plays in the background. There’s no artistry whatsoever to how director James Foley (‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, oh how the mighty have fallen) shoots these fucktages. They’re normally comprised of a series of master shots and close-ups of two actors who clearly aren’t remotely attracted to each other wiggling around in the nude until someone mercifully calls “Cut” and busts out the Purell bucket. It’s not even particularly kinky, since this time Christian Grey is willing to denounce his sexual needs for the love a good woman. The appearance of a couple of kinky toys plays like product placement, but for the most part it’s just Cinemax huffing and puffing.
It’s hard not to feel gross watching this cheapo softcore porn masquerade as a Hollywood thriller, and even harder not to feel gross about how much skin Dakota Johnson is forced to dangle in front of the camera this time. The last movie at least shot the sex scenes from a female point of view for an audience of hetero women discovering BDSM for the first time. This one lingers on boobs like a teen boy jerkoff picture, even though that couldn’t be farther from the target audience.
Johnson at least retains her dignity outside of the exploitative sex sessions, somehow delivering a performance at least reminiscent of human behavior while playing a character with less than two dimensions. That’s a bit of a miracle. No one else who embarrassingly shuffles across the screen in ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ comes close to doing that – not the genuinely talented Marcia Gay Harden (who is hopefully getting some decent cash from these skin flicks) and certainly not Kim Basinger, who pops up as Christian’s jealous former master. Basinger’s presence suggests that the series might be segueing slightly into erotic thriller territory, but the script never quite gets there. That’s all saved for the third movie. This one is apparently about love. You know, the sort of love that only two trashy romance novel clichés can share for each other while perpetuating the myth that partners are willing to change who they fundamentally are for the sake of a relationship. Somehow people still fall for that old fantasy. How sad.
Much like the ‘Twilight’ franchise, it’s amazing how traditional the notions of romance are in the Fifty Shades of Bullshit series as it sputters along. What started as a supposedly frank exploration of alternative sexuality quickly settles into a braindead marriage commercial. A token tragic backstory instantly explains away Mr. Grey’s sadistic and sociopathic tendencies, making him such a sweetheart that wedding bells simply must arrive. Believe it or not this queasy fuck flick is actually supposed expound on the need for true love to end in marriage. How repellant. How manipulative. How inappropriate.
E.L. James couldn’t even be bothered to give this trash some erotic thriller bumps to manufacture excitement because she needed to save all that for the second unnecessary sequel. Instead, ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ serves up a plot so boring that no functioning brain pays attention, characterization so shallow that it makes soap operas feel deep, uncomfortable sex scenes that won’t even turn on horny pubescents, and a nauseatingly sentimental marriage fantasy. It’s an expensive slice of eroticism that offers something to turn off every potential viewer with genitals. What a useful creation. Thanks, Hollywood. Now kindly go fuck yourself.