Review: Fifty Shades Darker
There is nothing wrong with sexual content. We are sexual people at heart. This statement is crucial because while watching Fifty Shades Darker, the eagerly-awaited sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, it felt distracting to know that no one could possibly make sex less interesting than it is here. Not only is the movie not sexy or erotic; it’s also poorly written and directed too.
The story: After the climax of the last film, the relationship between Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) is all but finished until he realizes he can’t live without her. Ready for a fresh start, they get back together but not without establishing weak antagonists (such as former lovers and a harassing boss) and lame obstacles (such as commitment issues and helicopter accidents) that are more at home in a Lifetime movie than they are here.
Why mention more? If you’re the target audience for this, you’ll probably eat it up. I’m not, but I opened my mind, wanting to give this a chance. Instead, Fifty Shades Darker is mind-boggling awful. The first movie wasn’t a good movie, but it at least looked good, was edited well, and all of the actors tried. This time, the look is still there but most of the actors are going through the motions. Even the editing choices (Where is Anne V. Coates when you need her?) feel out of place this time.
If the sex scenes had worked, maybe it could have worked on a soft-core level for basic T&A, but even those are boring. Only a seduction scene in an occupied elevator set to Van Morrison’s “Moondance” comes off as interesting. Beyond that, there is no titillation, no arousal, and no chemistry between the leads. By the movie’s end, they all feel like unsexy PG-13 love scenes with gratuitous nudity added for good measure. It’s like The Room went mainstream and Dornan is playing Christian Grey as Tommy Wiseau.
The film is essentially a drag from beginning to end. There’s no real energy, the dialogue reeks of awfulness (the screenplay is by E.L. James’s husband Niall Leonard, in a twist of irony), and the cast is simply wasted. Kim Basinger in particular squanders all the good will she created with her supporting turn in The Nice Guys playing the woman who was Christian’s sexual mentor. The character is such a one-dimensional antagonist that she still looks like a stick figure when she leaves the screen. The same can be said for Bella Heathcote, who is just as bad as the former lover Christian had before Ana. She has little to do but stalk Ana and shoot a gun with zero consequences. Both Basinger and Heathcote have done better work and they will recover.
In another surprise, Fifty Shades Darker was directed by the once-great James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear) and despite his fall from grace, he is still a capable director but this movie does nothing to prove it. Early in the movie, Christian gives Ana $24,000, which she later spends to buy his summer house in Colorado at a masked charity auction. It’s an obviously telegraphed moment with no real consequences, especially when it’s never mentioned again. Plus the development involving a helicopter accident toward the end is handled so haphazardly that it felt like a whole other scene was missing from the section.
By that point, Fifty Shades Darker had already gone off the deep end. So Christian is screwed up. Fine, but give us a real reason to care. Dornan gives us none and, like the original film, still feels miscast in the role while Johnson once again tries to rise above the material. She never does, but she’s the only reason to stay interested. You really want to see what she’ll do next even when the rewards are nil. The only good performance is given by character actor Bruce Altman, and he’s only there for two minutes.
Fans of the books will probably like this continuation of the soft-core soap opera, but if you hated the original, your opinion won’t change. At least you’ll get a preview of Fifty Shades Freed halfway through the end credits, and remarkably, it has more energy than anything in the previous 115 minutes. In that time, Fifty Shades Darker managed to be worse and even more lifeless than its predecessor.