Review: What’s the Safe Word to Stop ‘Fifty Shades Darker?’

"Fifty Shades Darker" (2017) - Movie Review

‘Fifty Shades Darker’ is a Muddled, Middle Chapter

Curious? Hardly. But after the two-year cliffhanger we were left with at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, we knew there was a bit more to the awkward BDSM “romance” (let’s use that term very loosely) than meets the eye. The more in Fifty Shades Darker is plodding couples’ issues and less time in the gimmicky sex dungeon.

We thought doe-eyed, awkward Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) had enough of the emotionless Christian’s (Jamie Dornan) BDSM lifestyle. Didn’t the word “red” mean anything? Maybe in the books perhaps, since it was never uttered in the previous film. Yet, within minutes of the opening of Fifty Shades Darker, these two are back in the sack. One can gladly accept a second change as long you don’t make the same exact mistakes again and again.

But not these two. Christian’s still as creepy and controlling as ever. At an art exhibit, he purchases an entire collection of images of Ana. The reason? He doesn’t like people gawking at her. He’s still pulling too many strings in her life, even though she’s trying to snatch some freedom back. Fifty Shades of Grey kept Ana’s character in quite the submissive position, both in the bedroom and in society. Here she’s at least trying to earn a living as an assistant for at publishing firm. It’s not too soon after that Christian is out to buy the company. Nothing’s changed.

Fortunately, Fifty Shades Darker takes a few steps away from the constrained Twilight fan fiction that consumed Fifty Shades of Grey. Author E.L. James hasn’t hid the fact that isn’t too far from the truth. The series was inspired by that awkward teen romance with sparkling vampires. But just swap out possessive vamps for emotionless dominants. Regardless, Darker attempt to wander aimlessly into new territory. We’re still dealing with this uncomfortable romance, but let’s throw in a predatory boss at Ana’s publishing firm, a stalking sex slave and Christian’s original dominant (Kim Basinger).

SEE ALSO: Fifty Shades Darker Review: WTF (What the Franchise?)

While these new dark secrets, there are opportunities at world-building. But with all these plot threads, there’s simply nothing. Bella Heathcote’s submissive stalker randomly pops in and out. Though, the one scene where she has a gun pointed at Ana moved the dial of interest ever so slightly. Basinger’s Mrs. Robinson is heavily underutilized. What a shame after seeing what she’s done before in Batman, L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile.

The chemistry between Dornan and Johnson hasn’t improved in the slightest. Once again, these aren’t terrible actors. The culprit is without a shadow of a doubt an abysmal screenplay and its source material. It’s as if they’re forced to be awkward and boring. And if they’re mirroring Twilight’s own Edward and Bella, perhaps it’s a job well done. Even with a few new sex toys on Christian’s shelf, the sensuality just isn’t as convincing this time around. It’s more of an afterthought when all this other pointless drama takes center stage.

Fifty Shades of Grey actually had some redeeming qualities, most notably its gorgeous cinematography by Seamus McGarvey. Who knew BDSM negotiations could be visually appealing? Fifty Shades Darker isn’t given such a luxury. It’s hardly a good-looking film outside of an eye-popping masquerade ball and the couple’s random trip on the water.

Even with Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley taking over for Sam Taylor-Johnson, the ambition to right the wrongs of the first film are beyond absent. Slower and more absurdly redundant than Grey, the drawn-out bickering for nearly two hours even makes the sex scenes less erotic.

We’re at a point now where it’s time to count down the days to Fifty Shades Freed next year. Not because this one raised the bar (which it didn’t). No. Just that the series will be done and over with. And to no one’s surprise, there’s yet another cliffhanger hanging over our heads for another year.

Fifty Shades Darker is the ultimate example of a castrating middle chapter that keeps teasing and teasing with underdeveloped plotting until the audience just wants to scream stop.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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