Movie Review: A Second Forgettable Fifty Shades

Movie Review: A Second Forgettable Fifty Shades

About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville nearly 20 years. Currently, he studies Journalism at Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Fifty Shades of Grey, and now the Fifty Shades franchise, have become cultural icons with a controversial reputation in the romance, drama, and sex genres. The inappropriately named sequel Fifty Shades Darker, however, is actually an improvement from the first book and movie.

Don’t get too excited by that promise. An improvement over the unexciting, uncomfortable first movie isn’t high praise. But despite the predictability and obvious cheesiness, there are some attractive qualities added for this new instalment.

It’s pleasantly surprising to see the second movie is more human, approachable, and funny than the famously creepy and sadistic first one. The ingredient which improves Darker above Grey is the story is the masochist abuse story between Ana (well, Anastasia) and Christian (the two protagonists) is now an ethical romance.

For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, the first film, focused on the manipulative, questionable practices of entrepreneur and sex dominant Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his seduction of Seattle editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson).

Photo credit: Universal Pictures.

Fifty Shades Darker’s story is far more virtuous and honest, instead showing Anastasia returning to Christian as he commits to stop his controlling behaviour…and in a refreshing twist, he actually does. Suddenly the relationship (and the plot) isn’t creepy. It’s actually sweet.

Maybe I’m falling victim to the screenwriter’s spell to make the silly dialogue sincere, but over time these characters are becoming warmer and more interesting to watch. The improved script was penned by Niall Leonard (husband of the source novel’s author, E. L. James). Some lines are unapologetically stupid, though many are surprisingly gentle and smart.

Johnson’s portrayal of Anastasia keeps the nauseating timidity from the first Fifty Shades, though the gradual warmth as Christian evolves shows promise with the franchise’s conclusion next year. But if you thought Christian was creepy, just wait until you meet the new villain.

His name is Jack Hyde, played by Eric Johnson, thankfully with no connection to co-star Dakota. Jack is Ana’s new boss with a perverted agenda, and Johnson plays him with an hilariously awful amount of intensity. He also continues the trend of terrible, eye-rolling character names that plague the series.

But why does Ana go back to Christian so easily? And why does she stay? This is the big question in the story, and there’s a satisfying answer. Fans of the books may also be curious why Christian abandons his frequent piano playing from the first film.

The most peculiar quality of Fifty Shades Darker is how misleading the title is for the tone of the movie. The movie is much funnier (often intentionally, to great effect) and even sexier. But it’s not darker. Without the abusive, possessive quality of Christian’s actions, there’s no darkness. In fact, the optimism does the exact opposite.

Photo credit: Universal Pictures.

The only “darkness” might be the intense sexual nature that make the Fifty Shades series so famous. The sex here is graphic and plentiful, but while abundant, it’s far too formulaic. Every sex scene was almost identical: the two stars visibly naked, ample toys and intricate lingerie, all set to a soulless, unidentifiable pop song.

Sex has always been the main selling point, though in this case it’s passable at best. What makes this a forgettable movie are the many technical faults. There’s several short, unnecessary subplots, it’s long, and the characters often feel synthetic.

For interested audiences, however, none of this matters. This is the kind of fan-driven, critic-proof story that anyone who really wants to see it will go no matter what the film is. The good news is anyone who gets dragged along to the cinema won’t be overly bored. There’s even one scene of striking vulnerability that’s really exciting.

A harder question is for the audiences who aren’t fans. Is Fifty Shades Darker worth going to see? The first definitely wasn’t, though there’s almost nothing that connects the two. It’s similar to MGM’s romantic disaster Original Sin, without the exotic locale.

Your chance of being disappointed goes down greatly based on your interest level. Having attended the movie alone in a sold-out show, it’s definitely strange (but not uncomfortable) seeing it by yourself. In terms of artistic merit? That’s a much shadier grey area.

Fifty Shades Darker
2 out of 4 stars.

18A, 120 minutes. Erotic Romance Drama.
Directed by James Foley.
Starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

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