Written by: Niall Leonard
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Kim Basinger
Some duos cannot simply ignore each other and the connection they conjured together. Something Fifty Shades Darker would love for you to think, as it attempts to rehabilitate its sexual abuser by pitting him against a more rampant one. A shallow approach and one that makes it even more ghoulish than the first installment.
After their separation, Christan Grey (Jamie Dornan) seeks to win back the affection of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) through extravagant purchases and begins to reckon with his previous actions. This all occurs while Grey’s past begins to haunt him and Anastasia finds herself working for a predator boss.
Following the abusive exploits of a billionaire in Fifty Shades of Grey, this sequel has the daring task of trying to explain what made him the monster we saw in the first film. A rehabilitation job so bungled that by the end it only makes things worse overall seeing as the only point of comparison comes in the form of an outright serial abuser. The man meant to represent this abuse is Anastasia’s boss Jack (Eric Johnson). Christian warns Anastasia about him having three assistants quite within the last eighteen months as if he has any moral ground to state anything about another abuser considering his actions in the previous movie. I’m sure the film would love to throw out all responsibility considering he makes people sign this contract, which separates him from someone like Jack.
In the attempt to make Grey look like a better option than Jack, Fifty Shades Darker only further digs a hole to align with a monster and then spends the rest of the runtime trying to explain what made him this way. If there weren’t enough red flags before, they could now be seen from Mars when this poor emotionally stunted man describes why he’s a sadist and must have a domineering relationship with women. This man needs therapy and should not be in a relationship with another person but there needs to be some steamy sex scenes as it remains the only selling point of this feature.
Perhaps viewing the entire trilogy nearly consecutively made the impact but all of the sex sequences just became boring and really gets to something inhibiting the story: there’s only so much you can do with intercourse. It’s the same mechanics and it can only be modified so many forms as to not be repetitive and after a glut of them, it just felt unnecessary especially in the way they were filmed. Sure, it’s the main draw but these moments cannot even be done well to an entertaining degree or built up in an engaging manner.
The most concerning aspect narratively occurs when Grey must confront his path with both the woman who initially got him into the BDSM lifestyle, Elena (Kim Basinger), and one of his previous submissives, Leila (Bella Heathcote). Now as someone who’s not part of the BDSM community, I cannot speak to how they handle the fallout of these two relationships but the manner in which it shows Grey having control of Leila looks a bit concerning. The idea Anastasia would stay with him following that whole interaction truly makes me scared for her well-being and how she views this relationship to be healthy in any sort of way.
If anyone held their breath hoping the writing would be any better in this sequel they will have most likely passed out from a lack of oxygen. It somehow gets even worse as it goes on because the first film focused on the shallow aspects of the relationship. The deeper they delve into the relationship between Anastasia and Grey just demonstrates that nothing remotely interesting truly exists there. It becomes a revolving sequence of Grey purchasing things to the surprise of Anastasia, them having bland sex, and then it just repeats. No intrigue gets built other than Grey’s hilarious backstory meant to be tragic but Dornan simply cannot sell whatever this story wants to convey about his character.
Even as a guilty pleasure, Fifty Shades Darker does nothing to advance the story between these two characters other than bringing them together following their split. Everything here seemingly wants to redeem Christian Grey as a man, but I would argue everything occurring in the feature only raises more red flags and more cause for Anastasia to run out the door as soon she gets the chance. Horribly written, incredibly boring for its runtime, and barely has a discernible plot to follow. Truly a filmmaking disaster.