Review: Fifty Shades Darker
There is a moment in Fifty Shades Darker in which Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is informed that she needs to attend a business meeting in New York with her boss. When she learns this, she immediately texts her boyfriend/stalker Christian Grey (Jaime Dornan) to inform him of the trip, to which he simply responds, “The answer is NO.” Of course, she doesn't go to New York, and the scene ends with them having steamy sex in Christian's luxurious Seattle apartment. So why does she listen to him? Well, among other reasons, the main one is that she just can't help but be obedient, and in this new well-shot soap opera masquerading as an edgy and amorous piece of boundary-pushing entertainment (and all the audiences flocking to the theaters in droves to see it), I guess that's adequate reasoning.
But in this followup to Sam Taylor-Johnson's impressive and still quite good Fifty Shades of Grey, there may be more at stake. This second installment features a helicopter crash, a swarm of black SUVs traveling through the city like some kind of mobster thriller, a masquerade ball, and a strange woman in a hoodie with a shadowy past. On the surface, this would sound like the screenplay is taking the characters in new directions and advancing the plot, and this would be true - if the movie chose to actually take the characters to different places and advance the plot, instead of resorting to end every obstacle in its path with Ana and Christian's sexual escapades.
James Foley's sequel is a tough one to unpack. Some sequences fully deliver on the absurdity presented in the first film. Others, however, are stretched out, awkward, and duller than anything in the first. In some ways this is surprising, given James Foley's interesting track record (Twin Peaks, House of Cards, and Hannibal). But after hearing about author E.L. James' dictator-like control over the production, it's hardly surprising at all.
Still, Dakota Johnson is good in the role, delicately portraying and emphasizing her character's continual progression as a young person being thrust into a new world. I still have my reservations about Jaime Dornan though, as he again proves to be as wooden as he was in the first film. In a movie with little plot and many lingering shots on his billionaire-white-guy character doing pull-ups while shirtless, his six pack gets the job done without much room for complaint.
The most unexpectedly disappointing aspect of the film, however, is its lack of audaciousness when approaching its sexual content. The most effective sexual moment in the film is inside an elevator, and if you've seen a trailer (or read the book), you already know what that scene entails. The rest is just tame, standard Hollywood sex, strangely still focusing on Dakota Johnson, which is still odd given this series is marketed toward women.
This series is nearly a household title at this point, and everyone knows that its popularity is derived from its erotic content, so why is it that these filmmakers, armed with two attractive people and the freedom of the R-rating at their fingertips, have opted to make these movies as laughably soft-core as they come? There aren't very many sex scenes here, but when they come, he thrusts, she moans, modern pop music plays in the background, and then its over in a matter of a minute or two, with virtually no steamy shots or edgy angles.
In fact, every sex scene in Fifty Shades Darker feels like a mix between an edgy modern pop music video and sleek recreations of the sex scenes in Tommy Wiseau's The Room.
And believe me when I say I wish I were joking.