Most of us agree, outside of its target audience of bored housewives, that Fifty Shades of Grey had no business getting a feature film adaptation in 2015, especially when said feature film adaptation is inevitably watered-down and terrible. Despite that, Fifty Shades of Grey made a pretty big mint at the box office, setting records for R-rated movie ticket sales over that year’s Valentine’s Day weekend, before the vastly superior Deadpool thankfully beat them the following year, and on the same Valentine’s Day weekend to boot. If that were the end of it, that might have been semi-tolerable. Alas, that’s not the end of it, as the original Fifty Shades of Grey novel comes with two sequels to make it a ham-fisted, unnecessary trilogy. Not even the source novel had any business having these sequels, so you can only imagine how unnecessary these follow-ups will be to the film franchise.
It should come as no surprise then, considering that its predecessor is already one of the most widely hated movies in recent memory, that Fifty Shades Darker is not very good, to put it mildly. In fact, at times, it feels like it’s almost going out of its way to be one of the worst wide movie releases of 2017. It’s like the entire movie was made on a dare, whereupon Universal decided that they wanted to see if they could somehow produce a movie that’s even worse than the original, and yet somehow make even more money. While Fifty Shades Darker is unfortunately still enormously profitable for Universal as of a couple of weeks into its theatrical run, as no doubt expected, dissenters can at least take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t look like the sequel is going to be as commercially successful as the original.
Regardless of box office intake though, Fifty Shades Darker feels like another one of those movies that pretty much defies criticism. It has a very select audience, and anyone outside of that audience will probably hate it. That’s about as diplomatic as one can be toward a movie that sometimes seems like it’s put together with deliberate incompetence. The difference with Fifty Shades Darker however is, unlike the potentially ironically enjoyable Resident Evil: The Final Chapter or Monster Trucks, Fifty Shades Darker is too often boring and frustratingly milquetoast. Like the original movie, it so desperately wants to be sexy, but is not the least bit titillating. It wants to be intriguing, but is not the least bit interesting. It wants to be deep, but it’s not truly about anything.
So, basically, in case it’s somehow a shock to you that these stories suck, or you were expecting a different result for the second movie for whatever reason, Fifty Shades Darker is just as terrible and un-sexy as its predecessor, possibly even slightly more so on both counts. Anyone who doesn’t already love the first movie should avoid this second movie like a scorching case of herpes.
Once again, Fifty Shades Darker stars Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey. Ana has taken up a new work station as an assistant at an independent publishing outfit, and Christian is still the world’s most unrealistic, non-working CEO of a company that does… Something. Once again, Fifty Shades Darker doesn’t really illustrate what Christian actually does, or is at least supposed to do. It’s still amazing that his board of directors hasn’t voted his dumb, stalking ass out, but whatever. It’s far too late to start pretending that Fifty Shades Darker takes place on any plane of recognizable reality.
So, how do these characters evolve in the sequel? Well, Ana gets sexually harassed by her boss a lot, and Christian starts having nightmares about his past, while Ana also starts getting stalked by a former sub of Christian’s. That sounds like a decent, if shallow evolution for this sequel on paper, but the thing is, these ideas never truly make sense on any note, nor do they ever reach any kind of logical resolution. Instead, most of Fifty Shades Darker presents its lead personalities in just as flat and un-engaging a manner as its predecessor.
Rest assured that the acting has not improved at all in this second movie either. Dakota Johnson, bless her, is at least trying her best to work with the paper-thin cutout of a character that she’s been slapped with, no doubt a device for repressed middle-aged women to insert themselves into her skin. Jamie Dornan however has completely checked out of the franchise already, and puts even less effort into his performance here than he did in the first movie. Christian is such a laughably dull, detached character, even when he’s supposed to be extra tormented in this follow-up, that it makes all of the scenes that want to be steamy or romantic instead turn out to be unintentionally hilarious. It also remains true that Johnson and Dornan have absolutely zero chemistry with each other here, again. In a movie that wants so badly to be about a steamy romance, that is, yet again, a death sentence for the un-ironic entertainment value.
The actor I truly feel bad for in this sequel though is Bella Heathcote, who portrays the tormented former sub of Christian, and has barely any screentime in a movie that’s already awful, despite the fact that she’s supposed to be a key hook in this follow-up! Heathcote, like Johnson, is way too good an actress to be stuck in this drivel, so how insulting is it that the movie doesn’t even truly bother to focus on her character at all? Adding to the unintentional hilarity is that Heathcote’s character, Leila moves around like an actual ghost, somehow getting in and out of locked rooms without even making a sound, and pulling some disappearing acts that even Batman would call bullshit on! The way that her character arc is resolved is head-slappingly idiotic to boot. She’s a blatant byproduct of a horrendous author with zero actual writing talent, and a feature of this sequel story that the movie unfortunately couldn’t sidestep without angering fans. If it could, I guarantee that this character would not be present in this movie, since she adds nothing to the story, nor does she add anything to Christian’s or Ana’s characters.
Another actor that’s supposed to be playing a big character in this sequel is Kim Basinger, who is clearly slumming it for a cheque as Christian’s sexual mentor, Elena Lincoln, or, “Mrs. Robinson”, as Christian calls her, because E.L. James seriously is that pretentious, having the outrageous nerve to compare this festering shit pile to The Graduate. Anyway, Elena is yet another character that is supposed to be a big part of the story, and in the interest of fairness, she does at least have a bit more bearing on the ‘plot’ than the completely wasted, non-sensical Leila. Even then though, Elena’s character is just as flat as the rest of them, and feels like she’s substituting ‘intrigue’ for actual character depth. In case it’s not apparent, allow me to point out that not developing personalities and then calling it ‘intrigue’ is not exciting, it’s lazy. No two ways about it.
Whatever interesting development may be in store for Elena and how she relates to Christian’s history, it looks like we’ll have to wait until the third and mercifully final movie to figure it out, because in this movie, she just seems to foreshadow a later agenda, and not do much else beyond creating laughable heel-turns for various characters. I wish I could say that was even true of Ana’s friends and Christian’s family, who just awkwardly walk in and out of certain scenes, with no real bearing on story events. There’s just nothing to the personalities of Fifty Shades Darker in general, who all feel like they’re somehow developed even less than they are in the first movie, despite this second movie operating under the pretense that it’s going to go deeper into this false intrigue that isn’t really there. In short, whenever characters aren’t fucking each other or embarrassing their actors, they’re boring you to tears.
Among forgetting character development, sex appeal or any reasonable degree of un-ironic entertainment value, Fifty Shades Darker also forgot a plot. Not one iota of actual story structure actually made it into this movie. I can see the defenders turning around and saying that the storyline of smut doesn’t matter, but allow me to offer a duo of rebuttals. First, this isn’t actual porn, this is a feature film, so you can’t defend this movie by the standards of calling it something else. Second, modern porn, the vast majority of which exists online at this point, is fundamentally free, and doesn’t reach into your wallet and pluck money from you for the prestigious service of blatantly not entertaining you.
Thus, there’s no getting around the fact that Fifty Shades Darker just feels sloppily written, just as sloppily written as its source novel, if not more. There’s nothing to describe regarding the storyline, because nothing of note truly happens in this follow-up. The movie tosses together a bunch of quasi-realized ideas, but then doesn’t actually resolve any of them properly, and pushes itself forward by contrivance, not by actual logic or intelligence. The worst part is a hilariously forced climax that ends up being a complete non-issue in the very next scene, wrapped up with such outlandish laziness that it almost ought to be admired for the sheer disregard for audience satisfaction and general common sense, if that somehow weren’t reprehensible writing.
So, what’s left then? Well, Fifty Shades Darker is a movie about Ana and Christian talking, then fucking each other, then talking some more, then seeing Christian be an abusive, stalking asshole, then occasionally throwing in a new idea that the movie doesn’t plan to resolve, then repeat. That’s it. That’s the entire movie. Fifty Shades Darker is not ultimately about anything. It’s a sequel that should not exist, bridging the gap toward another sequel that should not exist. Even the first movie’s ending is quickly forgotten in the first few minutes here, having Ana take Christian back for more talking, abuse and fucking because, I don’t know, the script said so. At the very least, there’s more unintentional humour in Fifty Shades Darker, which at least doesn’t try quite as hard to be taken seriously in contrast to its predecessor, at least from a directing standpoint, but that doesn’t redeem a lazy, barely present storyline that completely fails to inject any semblance of sex appeal or actual drama into the production.
Sam Taylor-Johnson opted out of directing the two Fifty Shades sequels after helming the original, which is the best decision that she ever made in relation to these movies. Thus, we have James Foley replacing her for Fifty Shades Darker, and next year’s follow-up, Fifty Shades Freed. Why yes, that is the director of Glengarry Glen Ross, along with quite a few great episodes of acclaimed Netflix series, House of Cards, so I’ll allow you to have a little cry after that knowledge.
Anyway, if there’s at least one plus to Foley’s direction over Taylor-Johnson’s, it’s the fact that Foley doesn’t even try to take Fifty Shades Darker seriously. It seems like Foley is fully aware that he’s making a steaming pile of cinematic garbage, and thus doesn’t even try to contribute any sense of artistic merit or actual steaminess to any given scene. Foley just lets the ludicrous script do its thing, not even trying to justify or explain its most ridiculous, non-sensical story elements (i.e. Leila), and he’s at least good enough to inject some ironic entertainment value for bad movie enthusiasts that way. Also, for what it’s worth, this movie’s soundtrack is alright, having a decent selection of sultry, shady licensed pop hits and solid compositions by Danny Elfman. That’s one small precious stone in the giant pile of raw sewage that is this movie’s final product.
Even if you do enjoy bad movies ironically, there still isn’t that much entertainment value in Fifty Shades Darker, which manages to be a bit closer to, “So bad, it’s good” territory in contrast to the first movie, but still falls well short of it. Foley seems just as bored and dis-engaged from the material as most of the audience will be, at least outside of the novel trilogy’s fan circles, and he seems to be just as much in it for a paycheque as most, if not all of the actors. Foley doesn’t even try to push the performances, he doesn’t even try to frame scenes in any interesting way, and he doesn’t even try to pretend that this movie is worth a shit. This is a movie that is purely made by studio decree, and can only be considered sexy or interesting to the most dull and undemanding of housewives and teenagers, the latter of which shouldn’t even be old enough to watch Fifty Shades Darker anyway, and yet, this movie seems heavily directed at them as much as it is the key ‘mommy porn’ demographic.
Like I said, Fifty Shades Darker pretty much defies criticism. When the movie clearly isn’t even trying to be good, is there really any point in indicating that it’s a predictable steaming turd of filmmaking? It’s kind of redundant. If you saw the first movie, assuming you aren’t part of the fanbase of the books, and survived how awful that movie is, the only thing motivating you to see this sequel is either morbid curiosity, a partner or spouse that’s forcing you, somehow pretending that you enjoyed the first movie, or being a movie critic like me that’s going out of professional obligation. If you’re being forced, my best advice to you is to be strong, and at least enjoy the unintentional hilarity when it comes.
If you’re merely morbidly curious though, then I strongly recommend that you stay away from Fifty Shades Darker! It’s marginally worse than its predecessor from a writing standpoint, but it’s also more watchable, due to not taking itself quite as seriously as the first movie, so the difference is kind of a wash. As I’ve already stressed though, this follow-up should not exist, even in prose. Fifty Shades of Grey should have stood by itself, terrible as it was, since it at least ended on a fairly fitting note. With the existence of Fifty Shades Darker and its follow-up though, this story is needlessly dragging itself out for its own sake, offering nothing to the audience but a watered-down version of the same stuff that they could be enjoying for free, and of far better quality, on Pornhub.
So, what else is there to say then? If you’re among the cult audience that enjoys Fifty Shades, then you and the gals might have some fun with Fifty Shades Darker. For everyone else though, this is already a contender for one of 2017’s worst movies, and unlike previous contenders such as Monster Trucks, The Bye-Bye Man and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Fifty Shades Darker is often unrelentingly boring on top of being inconceivably stupid. Worse than that as well is that it’s still not the least bit sexy, and thus still has no real reason to exist.
Seriously, people, just swallow your pride and visit RedTube if you’re in the mood and don’t have a partner to help with that. If you do that for your kink fix and wisely ignore shit like this, then the movie medium is better for this and similar toxic wastes of filmmaking being starved out of existence.
- The soundtrack is alright
- Still not the least bit sexy, in any respect
- Story barely exists, and makes even less sense than the original
- Performances and direction are so inept that it feels intentional