IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 105 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Wealthy Christian Grey and Anastasia ‘Ana’ Steele get married, but their honeymoon is cut short by news of a break-in at Christian’s corporate headquarters and some missing computer files. Security cameras identify the perpetrator as Jack Hyde, Ana’s former boss who was fired for assaulting her and who could be out for revenge. Things aren’t getting too good between Christian and Ana either, as she finds him overly overly controlling and possessive, and demands more freedom. Can they sort out their issues? Does anyone care?
Actually I probably shouldn’t have written those final three words of my synopsis of the first third, because evidently a great many people do care judging by the fact that this third installment of what could be the worst movie trilogy ever has already made lots of money. But two questions struck me while I was watching Fifty Shades Freed, and kept on striking me because I was so thoroughly un-engaged with what was taking place on screen. The first was: “Why am I here, especially when the first two episodes were so poor”? That’s a question I can’t entirely answer except that I was curious, and was in the mood for a good laugh, Fifty Shades Darker in particular, my pick for the worst film of last year, being little more than a series of thoroughly dumb scenes which I can’t understand for the life of me actually made their way onto the screen. Unfortunately, there’s little in Fifty Shades Freed to match, for example, Christian doing things to Ana with his hand in a lift and nobody notices her moaning, or Christian coming back from a helicopter crash without a scratch, or or when Ana orgasms immediately after Christian kissed her just once between the legs. Instead, while there is lots of that shoddy E. L. James plotting, some of the silliness, while still there, has been muted, which leaves little else, resulting in utter boredom. Though this one was shot back to back with Darker, it seems like they tried to make it a bit less daft, but they still didn’t try to make it any good, nor give the overall story much of an actual climax despite the film’s tag line. And there are still some groaners in the dialogue like:“Congratulations Ana, you’ve been promoted. And you weren’t even here!”
The second question that went through my head is: “Why on earth these films are so popular”? I must admit, it’s nice to have a franchise that isn’t sci-fi, action or horror, and is aimed more at the fairer sex, but even if I admit that I may not be the target audience, I simply fail to see any real quality in these films, which are terribly written, hardly depict its dippy carpet of a heroine in a positive light, and don’t even deliver much on the sex, which is ridiculously sanitised. Is this really the best Hollywood can really offer adults who don’t want to watch lots of people in silly costumes and/or computer graphics? It’s pathetic. Of course many could be just going to see them because they feel the need to mock, and there’s certainly plenty to mock in these films, though as I said before this third one just seems to attempting utter tedium instead – though I did chuckle at one deliberately amusing exchange. The dastardly Jack has just attacked Ana in her house and is held down by one of her security guards who asks another guard: “Have you got anything to restrain him”? The reply is “No”, to which Ana replies:“We do”. Frankly the film could have done with a lot more of this kind of thing, but instead James, screenwriter Niall Leonard and director James Foley seem to think they’re making a deep, serious drama instead of the hollow, condescending crap that they actually have made.
So our couple get married and go off to France for their honeymoon for some more erotic bliss away from the Red Room, though they soon have to return because evil Jack is back and after Ana. Their relationship seems to be a delicate balancing act – their sex appears to be more ‘vanilla’ now but as soon as Ana does something the rather controlling Christian doesn’t like, it’s back in the Red Room. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan still possess the chemistry of two ice cubes, and Dornan, while this film does give him an opportunity to act more relaxed [though his drunk scene is truly dreadful], still hasn’t convinced me that he’s human going by the general stiffness [sorry] of his acting. Christian may be able to buy everything he wants, but he still hasn’t got himself a personality. As for Johnson, she does try hard bless her, and thankfully doesn’t have as many atrocious lines to deliver as before, but I can see her becoming totally embarrassed at the very mention of this films in years to come. Anyway, Jack is soon built up more and more as a menace, and our couple could be heading for trouble due to Christian’s dominating nature, though James’s/Leonard’s idea of drama is for a pretty architect to touch Christian and for Ana to get angry at her, while their idea of good writing is to give Jack another motif for his actions at the end because one obviously isn’t enough, and it’s one of the most ridiculous coincidences in a film in ages.
The movie just plods along, obviously more interested in showing off the affluent lifestyle of Christian and Ana than turning their feeble characters into something resembling real people. Meanwhile non-stop pop music plays. The first two films had a lot, but this one is unable to go for five minutes without giving us some crappy song to hear over footage which often didn’t require one, though on the plus side there’s a bit more Danny Elfman’s score in this one. As before, he sometimes seems to understand the two main characters and their relationship more than just about anyone else involved with the movie. Things eventually heat up [well, not really] with some unsurprising news from one of the two main characters and a kidnapping, though what you don’t get is much follow-through from some of the stuff in Darker which, despite its total ineptitude, did suggest some darker and interesting pathways the story could go down. In particular, there was the appearance of Kim Basinger’s character Elena who abused Christian as a teenager and who played a large part in making him the way he is. I actually thought that she’d be a major part of Freed, but she’s not in it all, the film instead deciding to let a child molester go unpunished, though the character does ‘appear’ off-screen. Perhaps Basinger refused to do this one as well. Good for her.
While it’s always made clear that the sex is consentual, the way Ana seems to tolerate behaviour in her partner that many women would certainly not put up with remains worrying and even dangerous considering that many teenagers, even if they shouldn’t, will see this film and get a warped idea of what is acceptable behaviour from a man to a woman in a relationship. One wonders if Ana would put up with his crap if he wasn’t so rich. An intelligent film may have gone into things like this, and also really explored the psychology of the characters. Going into why Ana seems to need a guy like Christian in the first place could be interesting. But than this isn’t an intelligent film. The sex scenes, of which there are probably even more than before, only last about ten seconds [maybe Christian isn’t the great lover he’s supposed to be] before they cut away and you still don’t get to see any full frontal nudity. Considering that the first film, at least, was sold on its supposedly salacious content, the fact that these movies are so tame remains one of the biggest disappointments about them, while from what I gather [I’m no expert] that they’re quite mis-representative of the BDSM lifestyle too. I don’t consider myself a pervert [I think], but I do believe that there is room for erotic cinema that can be fairly explicit in nature without becoming actual pornography. The 70’s was full of it. When the first of these films came out I mentioned that I’d hoped its success would lead to some decent movies of this nature, but this hasn’t really come to pass.
Fifty Shades Freed resolutely refuses to do anything interesting with its story or its characters and proves that James and Leonard have totally ran out of ideas. It’s not even entertainingly bad except for certain details like Ana’s astoundingly useless security people. Director James Foley is content to just emphasise the expensive houses, cars and furnishings, heavy breathing and pop songs, but then there isn’t really anything else to focus on even if he tried. The best thing one can really say about this movie is that it’s the last of this abominable trilogy and that we have now been “Freed” – though what’s the betting they’ll be a spin-off. They’re probably thinking about a Fifty Shades cinematic universe, and I’m not sure that the cinema will survive it.