I don’t know where to start with Fifty Shades Darker, it has easily placed itself in the ‘one of the worst films I have ever seen’ category, along with its buddy Fifty Shades of Grey and I’m saving a special place in there for Fifty Shades Freed which is, unfortunately, coming out next Valentines Day. They, of course, make up the three filmed installments based on the novels by E. L. James.
There are so many things that are wrong with this film, not just the utter lack of chemistry between Christian and Ana, but the fact that their relationship is so unbelievably boring that there really isn’t a story there to tell. Again, this film survived on the promise that it would deliver kinky sex scenes but, again, it completely failed on all fronts. It is very difficult to sell a sex scene with two people who have about as much personality as a fruit fly and the sexual chemistry of a brother and sister. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and I genuinely feel sorry for Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson for ruining their careers with this godforsaken trilogy.
The film, directed by James Foley noted for Glengarry Glen Ross), follows the very boring premise that Christian and Ana. After the unsurprising ending to their relationship in the first film (who knew he liked to inflict pain on women? EVERYONE ANA. EVERYONE) she’s kind of trying to get on with her life, she has a new job at a publishing house and she’s really just focusing on herself. Christian obviously has other ideas and confronts her at a gallery event and within minutes, everything is forgotten and they are back together. They discuss over dinner that this time there will be no contract and no rules (how romantic) and that they are just going to be an exclusive, ‘vanilla’ couple. No risk of disappointing anyone there. Ana is shocked to learn that Christian has a very speckled past as a couple of unhinged women come out of the cracks. Had this been the main premise of the film, then it could have perhaps been a bit more interesting, but it was glazed over about as much as the predatory nature of Mr. Grey…but we’ll get to that. They get back together, stuff happens, she goes back to the red room, puts on a mask and a fancy dress, draws a box on his chest with lipstick and they have a lovely relationship. The end. It really is as boring as it sounds. Vague attempts to make it interesting have been made, the helicopter crash scene and the scene between Ana and her inappropriate boss are two of the most memorable, but not because they are good scenes but because they are scenes that don’t involve this deplorable relationship.
Often the context in which you watch a film can really affect the way you read it and in this current climate, what with the exposure of major Hollywood movie producers and actors being accused of rape and sexual assault, just made me even more angry that this film was ever made. From the mind of a woman obsessed with the Twilight franchise and born from some creepy fan-fiction, the unrealistic portrayal of this relationship is just a horrendous message to be sending out to young men and women. At the very heart of their relationship is the idea that Christian is into some fairly heavy going sexual fetishes. He recruits women to be his submissives and enjoys engaging in BDSM, with their consent, hurting them for sexual pleasure. This is something that is enjoyed by a huge proportion of people all over the world and when being practiced, is practiced safely and consensually. Ana is not on board with this kind of thing at all, which is completely fine – it is not for everyone, but I don’t think the film is getting this message across at all. He is a very dominant character, he buys the company she works for, he gives her a new phone and laptop, he tells her what to do all the time and even when he proposes to her he says “share my life with me.” She needs to go to New York for work and he won’t let her go. He doesn’t respect her in any way and every time they need to discuss something important to do with their relationship they just end up having sex. She allows him to control every aspect of her life. Even when he admits to her that he is a sadist and enjoys inflicting pain on women who look like his mother she embraces him, slings off all her clothes and allows him to do what he wants to her. The basis on which their relationship exists is extremely unhealthy and this dynamic is in no way balanced or fair. In a world where women are still fighting to be heard, this kind of film just makes it seem like its okay to just go along with whatever the man wants from you. There are occasions when she develops a backbone and stands up for herself but it doesn’t last long and then she’s naked again. It’s awful. Problems are not solved by sex.
To move on I can state that there are so many scenes that were just really confusing, for example when Christian gives Ana a red lipstick to draw a square on his chest to identify his boundaries…which isn’t washed off until at least a few days later in the shower. There’s another scene when an attempt is made to create some sort of sexual electricity between our two main characters while they are playing pool but it doesn’t work and is just full of lazy innuendoes and cheap shots of Dakota Johnson leaning over the table and passing the pool cue between her fingers. Everything that happens in this film is the product of a fantasy and is no way representative of any existing, healthy relationship.
I’ve been quite negative of this film so far, but there were some interesting scenes. I especially liked the idea of bringing in one of Christian’s former submissives as an obsessed, deranged woman who refuses to believe that Christian is in a relationship with someone and I also liked the addition of Elena (Kim Basinger), the woman that taught Christian how to be the way he is. We are shown from the start the Christian had a traumatic childhood and that has contributed to his unhealthy attitude towards relationships but this aspect of the story is sacrificed massively at the expense of more awkward sex scenes. Considering the film was two hours long, there is a surprising lack of depth and character development.
An unhealthy message accompanies mediocre acting, weak character development and a non-existent story but this film does have a couple of interesting scenes which woke me up for a few minutes. Don’t listen to me though, see for yourself what all the fuss is about on HBO this Saturday night.
Check out the trailer below.
The second installment of the Fifty Shades franchise premieres on HBO on Saturday, October 14 at 8:00pm.
As an HBO Watch writer since 2013, I have covered a wide variety of shows from Eastbound and Down to Game of Thrones. I am also a huge Stanley Kubrick enthusiast having written my undergraduate thesis on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Outside of the world of film and TV I am an avid baker and teach 16-18 year olds how to use cameras.