I didn’t hate “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Let’s fight about it.
I was in the vast minority of critics when I wrote my initial review for “Fifty Shades of Grey” in that I really found myself enjoying the film in a really masochistic way. The screenplay was awful, as was a good amount of the acting, not to mention some of the more problematic elements of the source material, but it was a trashy, fun, beautifully shot/edited/set-up and ultimately very interesting, if a bit rudimentary take on the typical romance story. It being based on three novels, of course there was going to be a sequel to inevitably set up thanks to its massive box office returns, as well as the strange cliffhanger ending the first film left us on. Still, there’s a different sort of feeling surrounding “Fifty Shades Darker,” since audiences have now been given a taste of the movie they were so curious about, are they willing to return for seconds? And do the filmmakers even care to make any sort of effort in this follow-up?
I didn’t hate “Fifty Shades Darker” either. Let’s fight again.
Now, lets be honest here in saying that “Fifty Shades Darker” is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it has the same charm as something like “Showgirls” has in a sense, though I will indeed argue that “Fifty Shades Darker” is much more well-rounded than “Showgirls,” but it instills the same guilty feeling. This is a film that you play drinking games with your friends over on a quiet Saturday night, and it works really well as that type of film. If you approach this in any way other than that, “Fifty Shades Darker” probably won’t work for you in the slightest. I see everything that critics say about this film, and I do have to agree in many senses, but do I still have to trash the film if I gained enjoyment from said things?
We pick up in “Fifty Shades Darker” on Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) once again, as she fends off the advancement of her ex-boyfriend, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who is attempting to win her affection back. After a stunt pulled at a photography show, Ana agrees to give Christian another chance, given some changes in the dynamic of the relationship, including nixing the S&M aspect of their relationship. As they attempt to start anew, Ana faces difficulties with her new boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who disapproves of her relationship with Christian; Leila (Bella Heathcote), a former girlfriend of Christian’s who begins exhibiting disturbing behavior towards Ana; and Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), Christian’s former lover who taught him everything he knows now as a child.
Now, this might sound like a lot going on at once, and watching the trailer, it seems like too much, but you would be surprised to see how little these sub-plots actually find their way into the main plot of the story, making many of these “raised stakes” feel much more inconsequential than they need to be. The main plot, surrounding Christian finally opening up to Ana and forging a rare emotional connection with another person, feels a bit rushed in the end as well, if only for one reason alone:
Don’t get me wrong, I think Dornan is a good actor when he’s given good material (ex. “Anthropoid”), but I find it nearly impossible to find anything really likable in Christian as a character, and Dornan’s stunted performance doesn’t help either. Not only are the things Christian says and does not sexy, Dornan has a tough time injecting any sense of real charisma into it. While I think even the most accomplished actor of his age-range would find difficulty in finding redeeming qualities in Christian, it certainly is possible.
I say it’s possible because opposite Dornan, you have Dakota Johnson, who is the unabashed highlight of this cast by far. Johnson is already carving out her post-“Fifty Shades” career with movies like “Black Mass,” “A Bigger Splash” and “How to Be Single” already being strong showings for the actress, as well as upcoming pictures like “Suspiria” and “The Sound of Metal” hitting theaters soon, her star power isn’t arguable. Even in this series, Johnson stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, connecting emotionally, as well of actually injecting some true humor into the piece that it desperately needs. Johnson is a lightbulb among candles.
I promise there are actually things about this I did like unironically (though most of it is ironic). Like the first film, this is an incredibly attractive film to look at, even in its smaller scenes. It’s a sleek, stylish film that uses its Seattle setting to a nice aesthetic extent. Sure, the film limits itself to cosmopolitan settings for the rich and famous, but in something like this, reality is the farthest thing from my imagination. In fact, the more ridiculous the setting, the more fun I had.
The film also benefits greatly from its music, which was hands down the best aspect of the first film. Danny Elfman’s score is an understated, modern piece that deserves more credit than it gets, but it’s the star-studded soundtrack that takes the cakes. While I can’t say I like the Taylor Swift/Zayn song in every trailer for the film, the rest of the soundtrack made for an exciting listen to distract me from the fact that I’m watching a straight couple have weird sex for the 15th time. This is another killer soundtrack for an aurally sound series.
“Fifty Shades Darker” is a weird film to review. On one hand, the film is actually kind of awful, with a stilted screenplay (which I blame on the atrociously written source material), wooden performances from some of the cast, and the looming problems surrounding the relationship in general. Yet, many of these things actually make for a fun viewing experience for those who like filling their movie collections with cult classics like myself. Still, “Fifty Shades Darker” isn’t completely hopeless. With a killer performance from Johnson, capable direction from James Foley, a fantastic soundtrack and musical score, “Fifty Shades Darker” continues what the first film started to a T, take that however you may.
Now, my score represents that of my enjoyment level of the film matched with the quality level. Had I focused solely on the quality of the film, be aware that it would be much lower. (Roughly a 1.5/5)
Directed by: James Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Bruce Altman, with Kim Basinger, and Marcia Gay Harden.
Runtime: 118 minutes
Rating: R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.
Universal Pictures presents, in association with Perfect World Pictures, a Michael De Luca production, a James Foley film, “Fifty Shades Darker”