I’d say I don’t know why I watched Fifty Shades Darker, but I know exactly why I watched it. For the same reason I watched the first one, to hate and hate myself for watching it. What little is improved from last time is completely negated by the film’s incessant need to try – and fail – to live up to its expectations.
I’ve honestly no idea how they did it but they actually made a near two hour movie without a story. Seriously, there’s no narrative flow, no real conflict, no three act structure, all we have is Anastasia and Christian going back and forth over whether they want to love, hate or screw each other and going round and round in circles constantly changing their minds every twenty minutes. The entire reason they broke up in the first film was that Ana couldn’t handle being pushed that hard into the BDSM lifestyle, a worthy reason if any, so when they reunite here she asks for a vanilla relationship and they keep it slow.
Naturally they’re bed-hopping within five minutes and the rest of the film just follows suit. Ana jumps around from understanding that Christian’s harsh past is too hard to talk about and demanding that he tell her everything while Christian can’t decide if he’s considerate boyfriend or controlling asshat or both or neither. Add in a psycho-ex, a rapey boss, child sexual abuse and a goddamn helicopter crash of all things and you have something that amounts to nothing, sure things look brighter for the couple by the end but the road they took to get there is filled with far too many dead-ends and 180 turns.
If you couldn’t tell from that the characters are just as dull as last time, to the film’s credit the chemistry between Dornan and Johnson is better now and Dornan looks less uncomfortable, perhaps playing the openly damaged Christian was more suited for him than ‘Big swinging dick’ Christian. But even with that their relationship is marred by inconsistencies, their refusal to talk to each other about anything should lend itself towards some interesting conflict but any fight they have is brought down by some forced happiness to remind us that these two are in love.
For the life of me I don’t understand why they are though, across both films I’ve seen countless reasons why these two should not be a couple, you can feel the Twilight influences because that had the exact same problem of putting its two leads together then giving them every reason to piss off in separate directions. Ana is told by multiple people that she doesn’t seem like the type to be owned, and she’s not we established that in the last film and a large majority of this film has her living her own life and calling Christian out for trying to micromanage her. But for one reason or another she still wants to be with Christian and – and this is a direct quote from the film here – his ‘kinky f**kery’ despite that same kinky f**kery being what drove her away.
I’ll give the film points for having Christian admit that he’s not a dominate, he’s a sadist, it’s one of the things that pissed me off the most in the first film, how it had the gall to call this BDSM when it clearly didn’t understand the first thing about BDSM. Hint, it’s called ‘Slap and Tickle’ meaning that after the pain you have to stroke your partner’s hair and call them pretty and remind them that despite everything you do still like them, there’s a psychology to it that Christian just didn’t have. I’m not one for kink-shaming – your perversions are your own, so long as its legal have at it – but I hated that Christian was misnamed because it gave the wrong idea to people about what BDSM actually is so to have them go back and fix that was a big moment… Only they lose points immediately by having Christian admit that he got off hurting woman that looked like his mother and Ana immediately being ok with that, that’s not something you be ok with, especially considering she looks like his mother.
With Ana it’s a case of wondering why she’s with a guy who wants to control her, with Christian it’s wondering why he wants to be with a girl that doesn’t want to be controlled. That’s his thing, he wants complete and total control over his partner to a frightening degree, there’s a scene where Ana is threatened by Christian’s ex-submissive Leila (a small but strong performance from Bella Heathcote) and Christian calms her down with a look and a word, like disciplining a dog. It comes off a lot creepier than I think they were intending because I just saw it as another reason for Ana to get outta there, but naturally she doesn’t and we get another hour of these two piss-stains trying to force a relationship that shouldn’t work and indeed, doesn’t.
On the plus side though, Kim Basinger made the most of her role as Elena, the woman who introduced Christian to BDSM at 15 years old. I get the 9 & ½ Weeks reference but Basinger took her little screentime and played the best c**t she could, maybe it was just comparatively but she was one of the better parts of the film.
I don’t really have much to say on the direction, James Foley – the guy who did Glengarry Glen Ross if you can believe that – just seems to go through the motions, there’s nothing significant, no unique voice to be heard but at the same time I don’t think anything could’ve been heard over the white noise. Even if this film had a plot it wouldn’t have helped matters, this is a dull, monotonous drag whose attempts at sex appeal feel neutered, sex happens and Johnson gets naked more than a couple of times but it feels really toned down for a series that’s built itself up as an erotic romance, the sex scenes feel rushed through like nobody actually wanted to linger on them for too long, and the lone piece of BDSM involved an ankle spreader because we’re still easing into things even though neither Ana nor Christian can decide what they even are at this point.
Actually thinking back I may be a little too harsh on the film on the sex, it’s mostly terrible but there’s a Ballroom scene where Ana has to contend with Ben-Wa balls which ultimately feels like a missed opportunity, and there’s a moment in an elevator which, outside of Leila’s gun scene, is the only genuine moment of the whole film because it tied into Christina’s feeling of control while not resorting to whips and chains, humiliation and exhibitionism are still parts of a BDSM relationship so why Christian felt the need to force Ana into the deep end I’ll never know because she seemed to enjoyed the elevator ride.
Look, you don’t need me to tell you that Fifty Shades Darker is terrible, either you’re a bored housewife looking for something to watch between neglecting your kids and screwing the poolboy, in which case you’ve already seen it and telling your friends how hot it is, or you’re a person with an IQ higher than their age and you know it’s absolute trash and haven’t seen it. For the morbidly curious of you, the few parts of the film that are better than the first are immediately countered by parts that are not, the story isn’t about a worthless contract anymore but it’s also not about anything anymore. Ana has more of a personality and Christian’s less of a creep, but their relationship is even less interesting now that both of them are practically screaming that being together is a terrible idea. The rare occasion where something actually works only do so through the muck of the rest of it, it’s too safe and too boring to appeal to anyone but it’s blinded fans and I’m already dreading the third part if this is any indication of the quality.
1 and ½ hairpieces out of 5