Movie Review - Fifty Shades Darker

The movie opens with a scene of what's implied to be child abuse at the hands of Christian Grey's father. It's an indication that maybe this film, written by Niall Leonard, based on fan fiction by his wife E. L. James, would dig a little deeper into Christian's childhood, teen years or even early adulthood as to further understand what caused the character to become who he is. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Stephenie Meyer laid out her male protagonist's history. It wasn't as complicated as what E. L. James did but it wasn't as hidden. Christian Grey does reveal his mother died when he was four, but he doesn't explain what his father did, the intricacies of that opening child abuse.

E. L. James was inspired by Twilight, the franchise started by Stephenie Meyer about a teen girl and a vampire. By the second installment in the Twilight series, a kind of love triangle had formed. It seems like the same was going to happen here, but it didn't. The potential is there, but it's quickly aborted. A woman who is from Christian's past shows up, a woman who was very influential in his life. Instead of delving into her and her relationship with Christian in the past, she too as a character is quickly aborted. The movie as a whole feels incomplete, as if it's just a setup for the next film. Even middle passages for film trilogies like The Empire Strikes Back or Back to the Future Part II felt like their own self-contained and individual things.

This movie feels like a stepping stone to the third and possibly final film, which might have been fine, if the movie were more of an excuse to explore the world of BDSM. In ways, it is an excuse for that, but the BDSM is merely an afterthought here. We're basically shown two toys from Christian's so-called red room, but both are rather lame in that they don't get into the heart of why BDSM can be an issue.

Jaime Dornan (Once Upon a Time and The Fall) reprises his role as the sexy billionaire, Christian Grey who lives in Seattle and has a red room filled with tons of sex toys and erotic torture items. Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash and Black Mass) reprises her role as Christian's love interest, Anatasia Steele, an aspiring writer who currently works as an assistant to a book editor at a publishing company.

At the end of the previous movie, Anatasia breaks up with Christian saying she thinks his red room is too much for her to handle and that his sadism is abusive and comes from abuse onto him. There are many in the real BDSM community who would argue that that is not the case for most who identify as sadists or enjoy a little sadism, but, putting that aside, and taking Anatasia's reasoning at face value, the movie keeps that issue rather vanilla to use a word from the film.

This is purposeful as Christian is trying to distance himself from the BDSM world, just as the male protagonist was trying to distance himself from the vampire world in Twilight. The difference is that the female protagonist in Twilight wanted the opposite. She wanted in on the vampire world. Anatasia doesn't really have an interest in the BDSM world. She has a natural curiosity as any young, liberal person might and she indulges Christian in his prurient predilection, his fetish as it were, but she's not gung-ho about it like the girl in Twilight was.

That dynamic, though logical, saps the fun, the excitement or danger that this movie could have. Essentially, you have two people avoiding BDSM. The movie does dip its toe in that red room twice and only briefly because if not, then this movie's premise would be utterly pointless and the hook of it would be gone. As such, the movie contrives other kinds of danger like crazy ex-girlfriends or predatory bosses.

Eric Johnson (Smallville and The Knick) plays Jack Hyde, the book editor who clearly has developed feelings for Anastasia. He's appealing in many ways and not because he's tall and handsome but because he's interested in literature like Anatasia and could help her in her career in more legitimate ways. Instead of having Anatasia fall in love with him genuinely, the movie just immediately makes him a predator, someone akin to Roger Ailes or Bill O'Reilly, which kills the chance for a good love triangle.

By backing away from the BDSM and with no genuine love triangle where this girl is sincerely torn between two men, both of whom with equal chance at her heart, I don't get what the dramatic stakes are in this movie. Dakota Johnson is good in the role. She's lovely and charming. She's even funny. She's like a young Sally Field. Jamie Dornan is just sheer eye-candy. He does brooding and lovelorn very well. He even does domineering with aplomb. The only issue is that the movie has no continuity with his facial hair. His beard comes in and out with every scene. It's distracting, but other than that, there's potential for both Dornan and Johnson to excel in this space.

There just isn't a story here, not one with any real thrust. It's basically two people break up and then get back together. The first film could be excused because it worked as a kind of comedy, satirizing typical, male-female relationships. It also had a bit of a sense of discovery when it came to the BDSM aspects. That sense of discovery is all but gone here and the comedy, which director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her writer Kelly Marcel understood in the previous movie, worked to some degree. Here, however, director James Foley doesn't really have any sense of humor or else he wasn't clued in on the joke of it all.

Rated R for strong sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.


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