IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 125 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Christian Grey, after his break up with his girlfriend Anastasia “Ana” Steele, has nightmares about the abuse he had suffered during his childhood. Meanwhile Ana has begun her new job as an assistant to Jack Hyde, an editor at Seattle Independent Publishing who appears to show more than a casual interest in Ana. Christian though wants her back and insists that he has changed and would agree to Ana’s terms of no rules and no punishments if they would resume their relationship. She agrees. However, they begin to be stalked by Leila Williams, an unhinged former submissive of Christian’s, while Christian’s company wants to take over SIP….
Last week at work I had two very similar conversations with two female colleagues. Each one told me with barely contained excitement that they were going to see Fifty Shades Darker and asked me if I was going to see it too. To both I replied that the first one was a pretty lousy movie but that I might drag myself to the sequel if I fancied a laugh. One of the women replied that it’s a woman’s film and therefore a man is less likely to enjoy or understand it, and the other said that I obviously don’t like lots of sex in films. I doubt that either of them would read this review, so it’s probably safe for me to say it here [I couldn’t be bothered with arguing my point of view in conversations that could have become full blown arguments]; both women were talking absolute crap. A man can still appreciate a so-called woman’s film even if it’s not really aimed at his sex, and as for not liking movie sex – well, it’s true that I tend to find suggestion more of a turn-on more than explicitness [which is why Secretary, which partly inspired these books and movies, is to me a far more erotic experience – though it’s also an infinitely better film full stop], though I have no shame in admitting that I have, say, In The Realm Of The Senses and The Story Of O in my collection, because I think they’re genuinely good movies and certainly amongst the best of its genre that I’ve seen.
Re-reading my review of Fifty Shades Of Grey the other day, I did wonder if I was a little hard on the movie, but after seeing Fifty Shades Darker I wondered if I’d been too kind. I don’t like swearing, I don’t do it much myself, but what the hell….Fifty Shades Darker is utter f****** rubbish and the worst film I’ve seen since Ghostbusters. How bad is it? Here’s an example, and I guess it deserves a spoiler warning but it’s handled so undramatically that I’m going to describe it anyway. Christian is in a helicopter that starts to go out of control. Now we don’t see it actually crash [that would have been too exciting] but we are led to believe that it has done so, and the news breaks out on TV that Christian’s helicopter has gone missing. Now you’d think that there would be a few scenes showing Ana’s dull and mournful life without her amazing boyfriend, some attempt to have the viewer moved and even worried. But no, the next scene has him walk through the door with one tiny scratch on him, and the whole subject is forgotten about. It was obviously thought that no explanation was needed as to how he survived or exactly what had happened to him in the first place. There were chuckles in the audience during this moment, as there were during a couple of other ones. I spent the first half an hour or so wondering why this film is already a hit like the first one, until I came to the conclusion that people must be going to see this for a laugh – and I can totally understand that considering the dreadful state of movie comedy today. They surely can’t be going for any other reason can they?
So Ana has left Christian and started to build a life without him until Christian begins to show up here and there and even insults her boss, after which – rather than telling him to bugger off or even admonish him for being so rude – she goes off with him. But then Ana seems to be a thoroughly stupid character anyway, agreeing to almost everything that Christian says, not in a dominant/submissive way, but because she doesn’t appear to have the mental capacity to argue. Dakota Fanning, who really wasn’t bad in the first movie, seems to overplay Ana’s dumbness in this one, but then I suppose that she can’t do too much with such an annoying character, a character who I begun to dislike far more than Christian as she goes back and forth from wanting a ‘vanilla’ relationship to wanting something more unusual so much that she really messes Christian about and I actually felt sorry for the poor guy [it’s hardly a positive depiction of a female heroine either]. This is despite Jamie Dornan being possibly even worse than he was before. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen him in anything else, but going by these two films calling him an actor would be really stretching it. While the character is basically a gross exaggeration of the female fantasy figure of the handsome brooding male who knows how to please a woman but won’t let her “in”, he does have his interesting aspects and a decent actor could have shown his internal conflict and torment and made something of the part. But no, we’re stuck with Jamie, and he’s just hopeless.
So Christian wins back Ana as long as they take it slowly – slowly meaning as much as a minute between the second date and the two copulating in the bedroom. She wants to just have ‘vanilla’ sex but is still a bit drawn to what Christian gave her before, and the only suspense – if you can call it that – is how long it will be before she ends up in the Red Room again. Because the Christian/Ana stuff basically consists of sex scene/discussion/repeat ad nauseum, much of the interest should hinge on the subplots, but they tend to be thrown away. A big deal is made early on of Christian’s ex stalking the two, and I was thinking that we may actually get some conflict, maybe have Christian drawn back to her, but she only appears in three or four scenes and is then forgotten about. Ana’s boss Jack seems like a nice guy, and I expected Ana to be genuinely attracted to someone who could be a rival for Christian, but he soon turns out to be a nasty sort. Almost every opportunity for drama is squandered, most damagingly in the case of Kim Basinger’s character Ellen. She plays the woman who abused him as a child and made him into the person he is now, but the script steadfastly refuses to go to the interesting places it could do with this element and pretty much wastes the still very fine looking Kim, whose presence could have created an interesting dynamic what with her role in 9 ½ Weeks.
I asked earlier why people are flocking to see this film and of course it must be the sex, though it disappoints despite it being the movie’s sole reason to exist outside of the fact that the first one made a huge amount of money. That film had one relatively explicit scene for an American movie early on but got progressively tamer as it went on, the bondage being positively discreet. This one contains far more sex of the ‘conventional’ kind though there’s still a bit of kinkiness here and there. However, the scenes are all cut short and are very much restricted by Hollywood’s bizarre restrictions, such as no full frontal nudity. They also have mostly dire pop songs laid over them which hardly help to set a good mood despite the songs seeming to be mostly about carnality – though at least Danny Elfman provides another unusual score, albeit one I can’t say is worth going to see the film to hear as you’re better off just buying the soundtrack and not bothering with this film at all. The sex is really not much to speak of, just shows the power of hype, and also shows what a poor movie this is when, despite being bad in nearly every aspect, it doesn’t even deliver on the most exploitative, basic level – though saying that, it’s a rather sad sign of the times when such a film is the big Valentine’s week release. Of course Dornan and Fanning have no chemistry whatsoever to speak of despite this film being their second round at this.
Director James Foley, usually a competent craftsman, has certainly made a slick piece though it lacks even the occasional pretensions to style that Sam Taylor-Johnson managed in the first film. That one also had a bit of interesting set design in places to alleviate the tedium, but there’s little of that here and Christian seems to have had a hell of a lot of interior re-designing done in his office and house in the time between this film and the first. Fifty Shades Darker is a terrible picture, and to be honest I personally didn’t even find it that funny in the way one can do so with bad movies – I was just bored. The terrible acting, pathetic dialogue, dull direction, and the complete throwing a way of a premise that does actually have some potential and which could have been made into something at least bearable, just end up having a deadening effect and I just sat there, transfixed by its stupidity and ineptness, not feeling anything, not caring whatsoever about what was happening onscreen. The Fifty Shades phenomenan is a phenomenon alright, a phenomenon of the most inexplicable kind. I doubt there’ll be a worse film in cinemas this year.