'Fifty Shades Freed'
Three years and millions of swooning hearts later, the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy is finally complete. It’s hard to imagine life without this remarkable tale of love, devotion, and light bondage.
If you’ve only been half-heartedly monitoring the ‘Fifty Shades’ saga from afar (and if so, how dare you?), you probably only know that this is the story of the ridiculously-named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) falling for the damaged billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who likes to go all S&M in the bedroom. What you might not realize is that over the course of two moderately well-budgeted, Cinemax-style sleazy skin pictures, the pair fell in love. In fact, the confusingly titled ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ opens with them getting married (yay!), going on a European holiday so generic that it looks like a sitcom montage (all crammed into the opening credits), and engaging in dutiful rounds of rumpy-pumpy that weirdly don’t involve any whips or chains or any of that naughty stuff that scandalizes your lonely aunt. It couldn’t be more basic. This play pretend romance of mildly unconventional sexuality has turned into a boring and basic wedding industry fantasy so quickly that viewers should be treated for whiplash.
Sadly for those who have a hard time dealing with pretend shocks, all is not magically perfect in ‘Fifty Shades’ land. You see, Anastasia’s former rapey boss (Eric Johnson), who you’ve already forgotten from the last movie, is back! He got bailed out of prison and is now determined to stalk and kill the precious Miss Steele. What?! Doesn’t he realize that he’s intruding on true love?! Does he care?! What a jerk!
Since Christian Grey is so damaged and paranoid (also: sick abs), he hired a security team to follow around his precious Anastasia. That’s a bummer because after two movies of being a mousey and painfully awkward young woman unsure of herself, marrying a bondage bad boy has transformed Ms. Steele into Mrs. Grey. She’s now super confident and struts and is a successful editor and is just generally a strong powerful woman™. All it took was submitting to pain/pleasure punishment. Who knew? Oh yeah, and while all these completely disinteresting things are going on, the movie also makes sure to stop every ten minutes or so for a steamy semi-graphic sex scene. That’s what you all came for, right?
Until ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ conforms to the basic cable convention of concluding with a deeply disappointing run through the thriller motions, it’s a softcore porno writ large. Many X-rated movies contain less sex scenes than pop up in the first hour of this mainstream Hollywood release. Of course, they’re all super short so as to give the illusion of being tasteful. The BSDM has been toned down now that this is a story of marriage, confirming that anyone who actually embraces alternative sexuality only had their lifestyle exploited in this unfortunate trilogy. Instead, it’s now just a series of awkward and dutiful sex scenes performed by understandably embarrassed actors who didn’t particularly like play acting lust with each other in the first movie, let alone two sequels. The brief glimpse of sexuality from the eyes of a woman that we got in the first ‘Fifty Shades’ from director Sam Taylor-Johnson is long gone. Now, the fuck scenes are all shot and designed by 64-year-old James Foley (‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, yes really). They feel just as creepy as you’d imagine the sex scenes made by an old man exploiting young performers might.
When the skin flick isn’t ogling young flesh, it’s ogling and flogging something else. This movie isn’t so much art-directed as it is ad-directed. Every expensive apartment, lavish restaurant, and luxury car clearly paid to be in the production and is displayed in lifestyle porn fashion like a commercial. It’s endlessly distracting, especially when the movie offers up a car chase that’s supposed to be the big set-piece. Because the sequence is designed more to show off how beautiful the cars look for potential buyers rather than act as a dramatic action scene, it’s somehow the most boring car chase in the history of cinema. There’s no sense of momentum, danger or even visual coherence. It looks like a theatrical car commercial plopped into the middle of the movie and works better as a sleep aid than a shot of adrenaline.
In keeping with brand synergy, Universal Music ensures that a crappy pop song plays over every sex scene and action beat so that you can make sure to buy or download it when you get home. Why anyone would want their music associated with this softcore shithole is a mystery to me, but there are plenty of “artists” who lined up to add an unmemorable song to the disposable soundtrack. Good for them.
At the center are of course the two lead actors, who are undoubtedly pleased that this three-picture deal of constant exploitation and humiliation is mercifully over. Jamie Dornan once again proves that his range as an actor is somewhere between a thick plank of wood and a somewhat thinner plank of wood. His accent wobbles throughout and his character remains just as much of an emotionally abusive prick as always, which for some reason has been presented as a fantasy because he has lots of money and a tragic past. Dakota Johnson completes her Herculean task of maintaining her dignity throughout this unfortunate endeavor. She at least gets to project some strength here, even though she’s forced to endure more gratuitous nudity than ever before for a movie that’s supposed to embody women’s sexual fantasies but has clearly been made by leering old men.
The rest of the cast are somehow worse and this time barely even get much screen time. Despite being in the trailer, Kim Basinger never appears on screen. I spotted at least one other actor’s name in the opening credits who didn’t show up either. The movie must have been edited heavily in post, leaving huge chunks missing. It’d be worth complaining about were it not for the fact that I’m grateful this nonsense is shorter.
So, that’s it. The ‘Fifty Shades’ series is finally done. It somehow managed to get worse as it went on. Despite having no less than three movies to craft an even remotely memorable or meaningful narrative, nothing of interest actually happened. E.L. James’ bestselling literary epic is little more than steamy softcore. It plays like a grand and expensive episode of ‘The Red Shoe Diaries’, which is oddly appropriate. Now that the theatrical run is over, these movies can move on to their inevitable home on deep cable where they can scandalize Baby Boomers and serve as desperate jerk-off material for any teen lacking internet access. The rest of us can now move on to the chapter in our lives where we get to pretend these movies never happened.