Fifty Shades Darker (2017) Directed by James Foley. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan. IMDB says: “While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.”

I’ll give it to you straight – this is just the type of trashy, dumb movie that I can really enjoy watching. I totally recognize its massive shortcomings and serious flaws but I also can just have fun with it. I understand not everyone can, but if you had likewise feelings as me towards Fifty Shades of Grey (mediocre movie, still can dig it) then you’ll probably feel similarly about its sequel. Lindsay gave Fifty Shades of Grey a very fair review when it came out, but I’d probably score it pretty closely to its sequel, so if you look to compare the scores don’t take this review as if to say this is a big improvement over the first movie. This is just a bit more up my guilty pleasure alley than Lindsay’s.

The end of Fifty Shades of Grey took a surprising left turn seeing Anastasia turn Christian down to their sexual dominant-submissive arrangement they discussed throughout the movie between hook ups. So to see within a short span of time that Ana is willing to give him another shot is a little silly, but this movie is more about her asserting her demands on him and what she expects from their relationship. She makes the calls about what they do in the bedroom, telling him when and how she’d like it to go down while letting him get creative. It’s nice to see in a movie, but then there’s all the concerning ways that Christian tries to control her outside of sex. Part of the plot is about him letting go of the controlling side of him – first in sex and then Ana’s independence in general. His stunts are still totally unacceptable leading man behavior and Ana gives in a bit too much – relationships are about compromise she reasons.

The whole concept is so unbelievable that a lot of it comes off as unintentionally comedic. Many aspects of these movies veer into that territory. So much of what happens is completely bizarre and doesn’t have the flow of a normal movie. It’s quite episodic and weaves in several story lines without giving enough time to any of them. If you thought the first movie was very light on plot it’s clear that fan fiction writer turned best selling author E.L. James felt the same and thought of many ways to jazz up the story this time. She turned against the basic wisdom of editing and decided to go with every option it seems.

There’s a mysterious girl (Bella Heathcote) following Ana around the streets of Seattle looking truly bummed. Ana meets Christian’s former lover, Elena (winkingly cast as Kim Basinger, but played a little too seriously), who was his dominant when he was a teenager and she was a friend of his mother (woah). She claims that Christian will never truly be happy not having a submissive, which preys on Ana’s insecurities. Ana gets a job in publishing but her boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) is a total creeper. You learn more about Christian’s horrible childhood and birth-mommy issues. There’s more than one life-or-death scenario that plays out during the movie. It’s like five soap opera episodes distilled to a two hour running time. Plus a whole lot of sex scenes. Somehow, Christian keeps his pants on in several of them.

There’s still a disconnect in chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in this movie. A big part of it is that the connection between them on paper is a bit inexplicable. They’re drawn together like magnets but its never that well explained. I’m assuming the actors are doing some guesswork on why they are so into each other. Johnson elevates these movies with her sense of humor towards the very bland role of Ana, and the movies are at their best when they capture the funny, awkward moments of her sexual enlightening and disbelief in Christian as a human. Jamie Dornan (who I think is a wonderful actor in The Fall) by contrast makes this mysterious, brooding billionaire comes off more bland. He’s trying, but to be fair, there’s not much there to work with. His character does not make all that much sense as a concept and doesn’t seem rooted in reality. Luckily they both look very good and in this kind of movie, that counts for something. There’s plenty more sex scenes than in any other movie, but for a story that’s supposed to be so risque with the dom-sub play, they never really do anything that pushes the envelope.

I thought it was unfortunate that they switched from a female to male director and writer. Niall Leonard who adapted the screenplay is E.L. James husband, which gives her way too much influence here. The only way these movies could be elevated from campy fun into something resembling a well-made movie would be to seriously reimagine her very amateur writing and story-lines. There’s also something to be said for a movie about a woman taking charge of her own sexual and relationship desires. There’s plenty of terrible behavior on Christian’s behalf to negate that power dynamic, but having a woman write and direct gives a bit more of that power back to females, at least behind the scenes. For instance, if my memory serves me right I believe I didn’t see quite nearly as much of Christian in his pants in the first movie.


Fifty Shades Darker is currently in theaters.