The Shades are Dark and Full of Terrors
Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley and is based on the novel of the same name by E.L. James. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return to reprise their roles of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, with Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Kim Basinger, and Marcia Gay Harden also starring.
I think just about all of us can agree that Fifty Shades of Grey was a pretty terrible movie, for it introduced to us a relationship in which the boyfriend gets off by punishing a girl he considers to be his submissive, yet not doing a single thing to convince us as to how such a relationship isn't serving as a promotion for sexual abuse and isn't basically telling us, "it's perfectly normal for the guy to be overly dominant in a romantic relationship." None of it made any god damn sense, and just like the book, the movie was a magnet of controversy. Of course, history will tell us that nothing grabs the attention of people like controversy, so just as the Fifty Shades of Grey novel sold millions of copies worldwide, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie was going to make millions of dollars worldwide. And just as we can say with certainty that grass is green, we can also say with the same amount of certainty that Universal was going to follow up on Grey with Fifty Shades Darker.
You're probably wondering what the hell I'm doing here on Valentine's Day, writing you a review of Fifty Shades Darker. I ought to be watching Casablanca or something else highly romantic. In all honesty, today is the perfect day to present to you my take on the second installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy, because Fifty Shades Freed is currently in theaters, and there's a lot of fun to be had in talking crap about a bad movie, especially one that attempts to kill love like this one. You'd be a fool to think that I had any intentions to go see Fifty Shades Darker when it was in theaters, especially when The Lego Batman Movie and John Wick 2 were out in theaters at the same time. No, I'm not going to go see Freed in theaters. Let me reiterate what I said in Fifty Shades of Grey review: I would rather saw my arm off than give money to these trash films.
On paper, Fifty Shades Darker looks as if it could, at the absolute best, be halfway decent. Johnson and Dornan have proven themselves to be respectable actors in other projects, and Foley was the director behind Glengarry Glen Ross, so there's no reason to claim that Fifty Shades Darker doesn't have any kind of talent behind it. In addition, Fifty Shades of Grey set hopes and expectations for this trilogy really really really low, and because of just how terrible that film was, Fifty Shades Darker wouldn't have to try too hard to be at least marginally better. It has to better, right? Right?! Oh man oh man oh man oh man, if only that was the case.
Somehow, someway, Foley and company did it. They made a follow-up that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look acceptable by comparison, and that is no accomplishment any normally functioning human being should be proud of. Fifty Shades Darker takes any and all potential from Fifty Shades of Grey and bludgeons it into a vapid blob, a blob that comes in the form of two hours containing nothing but dull sex and equally dull drama. Dull is the one thing that any of these Fifty Shades films should not be, because how in the world can you have a film try to appeal to you by showing its attractive lead actors engaging in kinky sex acts, and yet not be the least bit interesting or even the tiniest bit racy? We can talk all day about how Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have no notable chemistry together, but the fact that this movie can't even get its sex scenes rights - and that would be the one thing that you think the movie wants to get right - that is the real surprise at work here.
The plot. Umm, yeah, about that. Fifty Shades Darker really doesn't have much of anything resembling a plot. Christian wants Anastasia back after the events of Fifty Shades of Grey, and, big shocker, the two reconcile and start dating again. Other than that, a few other people try to get between the two, including Anastasia's boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson, looking like a half-baked Jon Hamm) and one of Grey's former lovers (Kim Basinger). Yep. That's about it. Exciting stuff, right?
- We're just wasting time if we think we can try to find anything laudable in Fifty Shades Darker, and, big surprise, there is nothing seriously laudable in this entire film. I thought Fifty Shades of Grey looked nice from a cinematography standpoint, and that Johnson and Dornan were giving their best efforts. No such high points here. This time, Johnson and Dornan act like they're phoning it in, and there is nothing stand-out from the cinematography for me to discuss in length. There is, I suppose, some unintentional hilarity to be had in the film's inane dialogue, such as Anastasia agreeing to dinner with Christian through this brilliant conversation:
Christian: I've never wanted to try again.
Anastasia: Christian, I don't...it's not a good idea
Christian: Let's talk. Okay? Just talk, please. Have dinner with me.
Anastasia: Okay, fine. I will have dinner with you... because I'm...hungry.
They really were meant for each other, weren't they?
- I have to say it again. It is truly amazing just how unbelievably dull this entire movie is, largely because almost nothing happens throughout. Here's a fact that will honestly come as no surprise: The screenplay was written by E.L. James' husband, Niall Leonard, most likely because no one else would even think about writing the screenplay. Leonard has some prior screenwriting credits from writing episodes for TV shows like Wire in the Blood, although this proved to be not enough for him to successfully adapt E.L. James' novel into a screenplay, because how can you make much of anything with James' low-quality Fifty Shades novels? The screenplay not only contains some horrendous dialogue, but it also has no evidence of character development for Anastasia and Christian nor any evidence for anything resembling a constructive plot. It's just two hours of Anastasia and Christian dating, having sex, and sometimes arguing with each other, and that's all.
- You know a Fifty Shades movie has got it bad when its sex scenes are boring. I guess no one in the production watched something like In The Realm of the Senses. I truly believe it is impossible to be sexually aroused by watching Dakota Johnson and Jaime Dornan thrust their bodies together, unless you are an immature teenager or have a serious porn addiction or maybe both. Any stimulation felt by watching Christian and Anastasia have sex with each other would be the equivalent of the cheap stimulation felt by watching two random people have sex during a porno. There is no true emotional connection between the two partners and absolutely nothing about them having sex is provocative in any way, which brings me back to how Johnson and Dornan display no natural chemistry, heavily impairing our ability to believe that their respective characters have any kind of healthy, romantic bond that can enhance how we feel about the two engaging in sexual intercourse. Fifty Shades Darker - but really all of the Fifty Shades films - thinks it can please us with the erotica to be had from watching two finely shaped human bodies engaging one another in a sexual fashion, and yet completely miss the mark because of how empty and uninspired that the sex actually is. It's seriously no better than just watching porn. Fifty Shades of Grey at least tried to be arousing by being gimmicky with its portrayal of BDSM and how Christian likes to use BDSM in his relationships, even though that film got its BDSM message incredibly wrong. With Fifty Shades Darker, there's just nothing. Nothing educational, nothing provocative, nothing even the smallest bit racy.
It seriously baffles me what the appeal is behind these Fifty Shades films and how they make so much money at the box office. Do people seriously go to these films expecting to see great character development or the blossoming of a beautiful romantic relationship? Or is everyone who goes to see one of these movies secretly a perverted freak who couldn't care less about who Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are and will pay whatever ticket price necessary to get a chance to watch two attractive actors have sex with each other, and yet, because it's a rated R movie released in theaters worldwide, it's not a porno. I'm not saying that the Fifty Shades films are straight-up porn. It's just that they have no emotional weight nor intriguing story lines so as to allow me to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that E.L. James is trying to send some kind of message through her novels that a lot of us just don't seem to be getting. Of course, it could just be that E.L. James is a bad writer and didn't seem to fully understand what BDSM is and how it might play into someone's relationship.
There's no way around it when trying to assess just how bad that Fifty Shades Darker really is. It offers next to nothing in regards to plot, character, and exciting sex scenes, all amounting to two hours of utterly dull nothingness. If apathy were a movie, it would be Fifty Shades Darker, because apathy is about the only feeling to be had from this entire movie. I almost think it would be better if this film was more capable of drawing out heated rage and anger from people like me who despise this series for what it is. But it can't even do that. That, my friends, is the truly dark and depressing side of this heinous entry to this self-proclaimed "fairy tale".
Recommend? Why in the world would I recommend these Fifty Shades movies?
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: