Fifty Shades Darker (2017)
Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: February 10th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James Foley Actors: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden




he opening shots finally hint at Christian Grey’s curious past, but it’s so fleeting that the real impact of his upbringing still eludes precise definitions on his deviant present. At least, however, he’s definitively labeled a sadist, rather than a mere sexually dominant person in search of a submissive partner. The only interesting component of this poorly written, uncomfortably silly franchise is the origination of his peculiarities – or what physical and psychological events occurred to impress upon a mind to require the pain of others for personal gratification. Sadly, once again, the answers remain distant or nonexistent, favoring instead sex scenes that segue into further sex scenes, showcasing paper-thin characters with nice bodies.

The continued plot finds Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) staying away from former billionaire lover Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after he previously revealed his “red room” full of whips and devices of bondage. Ana is back to work at a publishing company, with new boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) as a conspicuously available, potential suitor. But Grey can’t let her go; when pal Jose (Victor Rasuk) puts on a photo exhibit with Steele as the sole subject, the billionaire buys every piece, insisting that he can’t stand to have anyone else gawking at his quarry. Creepily – but expectedly – he confronts the young woman and refuses to take “no” for an answer. With his incomparably potent, magic words (“Have dinner with me”), Grey re-seduces Steele back into his life.

Although Grey reenforces the notion that he’s toning down his dependence on BDSM, it’s difficult for Ana – alongside the audience – to believe that someone so wrapped up in that particular world of dominance and submission could ever truly extricate himself. During several of these initial conversations, it becomes clearer how easily sadism can be substituted for a vampire’s need for blood (like Edward’s struggles with Bella in the “Twilight” series). And while she feebly resists his advances, it’s obvious that the combination (and alternation) of unlimited wealth and firm muscles is enough to subdue all of her convictions against the shallow actuality.

There’s a bit of melodrama to stir up conflicts (it can’t be all sex and no predicaments), in the form of the hopelessly damaged submissive, Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote), and the dangerously jealous Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), but the most notable variance is Hyde, whose character is astoundingly wasted. Rather than presenting a sensible love triangle, in which Ana must weigh the perversions of Grey against the normalcy of an equivalent (someone equally successful, handsome, and fit), Hyde is transformed into a nonsensically despicable antagonist – making Grey an easy choice, even with all of his mental complexities. Plus, it’s tough to compete with someone who can buy out the competition’s employers and manipulate professional and social lives.

To further cheapen the relationship (which Ana does, thankfully, compare to ownership at one point), Christian reiterates that he makes $24,000 every 15 minutes, which undoubtedly aids in sweeping his target off her feet. This is impressive for a guy who grew up with a “The Chronicles of Riddick” poster on his bedroom wall. For him, the art of seduction is money, then rippling abdominals, then more money. Viewers do get to see Dornan shirtless quite a bit (the first sex scene occurs just under 30 minutes in, which is humorously grueling anticipation, considering the material), though Johnson is more frequently nude – something the target audience might be less thrilled about. Since author E.L. James saw “The Story of O” or “Eyes Wide Shut” once, there’s also a masquerade ball, which, uneventful as it is, just might be the greatest spectacle in the picture. But Steele will likely grow bored, rapidly, with her newfound life, as she attends such a costume party for the first time while also harboring metal spheres in her vagina; surely the masquerade environment could have been enough excitement for a single evening.

The rest of the film consists mostly of vacationing and enjoying the activities that a billionaire’s assets can accommodate, interrupted from time to time with arguments, agreements, or celebrations – each transitioning to sex as if every interaction were emotionally identical. As if Bluebeard’s mansion, Ana wanders into the red room again, becoming more inquisitive as she increases her dedication to keeping her man. The only effective thing about all of this is Johnson’s sustained battle with choking down laughter; it’s quite believable that the actress would stifle giggles every time a mildly naughty sexual act is proposed. Scarily, as she descends into Grey’s rabbit hole of kinks, “Fifty Shades Darker” starts to resemble a blueprint for crafting a woman to be utterly stranded, helpless, and at the mercy of her abuser when he tires of her and threatens to abandon her. Or, perhaps, she’s lucky, since it’s implied that she can reach orgasm during a 45-second elevator ride with only the help of Christian’s right hand. Fortunately, no matter the meaningless tribulations, everything is bound to work out in the end, since bizarre (or downright harmful) sexual proclivities are no match for extreme affluence and muscular definition.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10