The Northwest is known for great things like grunge rock, Starbucks coffee, Richard Sherman and WWE superstar Daniel Bryan. It’s a crying shame that they have to be tainted through association by the sheer awfulness of Fifty Shades Darker, a somehow even more boring and stupider sequel to the first film adaption of E.L. James’s erotic book series. And it’d have been bad enough if this movie was content to be merely moronic and dull, but there’s more- the general values and themes of the story are even more out of whack than usual.
Dakota Johnson returns as Anastasia Steele, and as the film progresses I’m gradually convinced that she’s mostly pursuing this relationship with Jamie Dornan’s sado-masochistic billionaire Christian Grey because she’s a glutton for punishment, beyond the physical kind. Lonely and dealing with nightmares of his troubled past, he surprises her at an art gallery in a scene that feels unsettling and discomforting than it does seductive or thrilling. But Ana isn’t satisfied with her cushy new job at a Seattle publishing firm, nor is she interested in the romantic advances of her boss Jack Hyde (an unrealistically evil Eric Johnson).
This time around James Foley sits in the director’s chair, and his more earnest style of presenting this relationship doesn’t make things much better. The first two-thirds are devoted to Grey’s bizarre attempts at (what he considers) an intimate, normal relationship with Ana, which includes guidelines such as drawing boundaries around his chest where she can touch him. Because you see, his scars are too sensitive, down to his very soul. I think this is supposed to come off as something deep and poetic, but it feels really silly and pretentious.
Ana, believe it or not, has even less agency than ever. There’ll be a brief moment where she points out the problems with the story and the dynamic between these two characters, like being rightfully outraged when Grey takes control of her bank account. “This isn’t a relationship, this is ownership”. No shit, Sherlock! However, Christian’s sex appeal is apparently too much for her, and she gladly allows him to take control of her life. When people talk about privilege, they essentially mean Christian Grey, a spoiled rich brat who basically gets whatever he wants because he pouts long enough. These characters suck so god damn hard.
I understand that the root of Ana and Christian’s chemistry is their love of BDSM, that’s fine. But even if you have a good reason for two characters to be together, you still have to use that to tell an interesting story, and that’s where this movie fails. On top of the clunky dialogue and Dornan’s lump of wood performance (Johnson is really the only one that’s even trying here), next to nothing in this story feels earned.
There’s no sense of journey in this movie, no point where Ana and Christian have to change for the better or grow as characters, or work together to solve a dilemma. This film is essentially a series of small events that are suddenly resolved without the characters having to really work for anything.
For example, there’s a mysterious ex-girlfriend who stalks Ana at numerous points, in this weird jump cuts that are right out of a cheap SyFy original movie. Her resolution and so many others in Darker feel extremely anti-climatic. Towards the end it felt as if I was watching multiple endings, it just went on and on and on.
It’d be one thing if Fifty Shades Darker was enjoyably bad throughout, but only roughly half of it ever gets to that point, while the rest is just a snoozefest. It’s ridiculous and idiotic, but there isn’t enough bizarre about it to where it feels like a spectacular car crash, and the oddly tamer sex scenes don’t help either. Artfully crafted crap on a stick, alas, is still crap on a stick. A few minor positives: some of the cinematography from John Schwartzman is pretty nice, and the soundtrack is still enjoyable. Sia’s “Helium” is an elegant and sharp ballad, and artists like John Legend Nicki Minaj and Nick Jonas contribute some nice songs as well. But for a film that tries so hard to make its leading man so sympathetic, it feels eerily cold and sterile with no warmth in its core relationship.
At least Twilight, as goofy as it was, had something of a structured world and characters who actually went through an arc. It wasn’t a particularly well written one, but events at least had consequences. Nothing builds on anything or has any real consequence in Fifty Shades, it’s just these two dunderheads dating and things just happen to them. Bella and Edward may have been both pretty stupid, but they were forced to fight to be together. For me, an emotionally withdrawn girl who gives up her old life to become a vampire isn’t exactly great, but it’s more compelling than a rather bland woman who gives up her old life to be a human plaything.
Lemme tell ya something- this movie fucking sucks. I can’t even recommend this movie to laugh at, it’s just flat out hot garbage. Go rent the inspiration for this series, Breaking Dawn Part 2 if you want to poke fun at an awesomely bad movie. This is only worth watching if you want to analyze how not to build chemistry between two characters.