Despite only coming out a couple years ago, Fifty Shades of Grey is already earning a reputation as one of the worst movies of all time. Is it really worthy of that title, though? Sure, it’s based on a ridiculously stupid bestseller, but the film adaptation wasn’t without a few highlights. At least it had some elegant cinematography, stylish production design, and self-aware performances. The filmmakers clearly knew that the source material wouldn’t transfer well to the silver screen, but they still tried their best to make it work. While that might not make it a good movie, it was a respectable effort. That’s more than can be said about Fifty Shades Darker.
Where the first film was just stupid, this sequel is flat-out manipulative, mean-spirited, and – most offensive of all – dull. Part of what makes Fifty Shades Darker so insulting is that it actually tries to address some pretty touchy issues. Subjects like child abuse, sexual assault, and mental illness. Does any of this really belong in a franchise where somebody asks, “What are butt plugs?” It’s like if Twilight tried talking to audiences about abortion. Oh wait, Twilight DID tackle abortion and we all remember how tastefully that turned out.
Where the first film was just stupid, this sequel is flat-out manipulative, mean-spirited, and – most offensive of all – dull.
The blameless Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan once again do what they can as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, respectively. At the end of the first movie, Ana dumped the abusive Christian and reclaimed her independence. Only several minutes into Fifty Shades Darker, however, she takes him back with almost no qualms. Why? Because the script requires Ana to be a weak-willed airhead who will forgive her man no matter how many times he hurts her. Meanwhile, Mr. Grey is every bit as creepy, possessive, and unlikable as you remember.
The only reason why Christian seems like a suitable love interest for Ana is because all of the other men in her life are just as despicable. One of Ana’s friends takes pictures of her without consent and presents them at an art gallery. Then there’s Eric Johnson as her boss, who has the sinister name of Jack Hyde. He’s one of the most cartoonish villains in a long time, lacking a single subtle bone in his body. Determined to steal Ana away from Christian, he endorses sexual harassment in the workplace and acts like a serial killer when things don’t go his way. Apparently the moral of the story is that every man will scar you emotionally and physically. So just settle for the one with the most money and the kinkiest sex dungeon.
Speaking of sex, is the erotica here at least stimulating? Sadly, even Ana and Christian’s love making sessions are a snooze fest. They’re vanilla, uninspired, and all too safe. We still haven’t even seen Mr. Grey’s junk after two movies, which is truly inexplicable for an erotic romance targeted at women. The only scene that’s kind of awkwardly amusing is a sequence involving Ben Wa balls. That’s hardly worth the price of admission, though.
We still haven’t even seen Mr. Grey’s junk after two movies, which is truly inexplicable for an erotic romance targeted at women.
All the while, Johnson and Dornan just seem to be thinking to themselves, “Are we done yet?” The supporting cast appears equally bored. Marcia Gay Harden returns as Christian’s adoptive mother, but contributes little. Bella Heathcote plays one of Christian’s former submissives, but disappears without leaving much of an impact. The most unforgivable waste of all is Oscar-winner Kim Basinger as Elena Lincoln, the woman who turned Christian Grey into the next Vili Fualaau. They’re all squandered in a film that can’t even be described as so bad it’s good. It’s just so bad it’s bland.