Though far from a masterpiece, “Fifty Shades of Grey” was more colorful than its title suggested. Thanks to artistic director Sam Taylor-Johnson, its attempts to break free from its laughably bad source material were admirable.
“Fifty Shades Darker” trades Taylor-Johnson for James Foley, who has directed his share of winners but fails to tame this beast. While it promises a grimmer, more serious story, “Darker” ends up being an average softcore porn film bogged down by repetitious plot threads that lead to nowhere.
The film begins with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) shortly after breaking up with business magnate Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), getting a new job at a publishing house under editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Hyde makes his interest in Ana obvious, as does a mysterious stalker (Bella Heathcote). But Ana finds herself more distracted by Grey’s attempts to re-enter her life and, against her better judgment, gives their relationship another chance.
It’s hardly a good one, though. Grey asserts absolute control over Ana’s activities, but the film plays that off as Grey simply being protective. Grey lavishes her with gifts and only tries to understand her through a creepy dossier his assistants have compiled. The couple spend most of their time ripping each other’s clothes off and, aside from a humorous excursion involving beads, partake in decidedly vanilla sex. BDSM rarely occurs, and when it does, the film tones down the content even though that’s supposed to be its selling point. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: What a tease.
While we learn a little more about Grey‘s inner workings, “Darker” doesn’t penetrate any deeper into Ana. She doesn’t have any flaws — multiple men in the film want her, and multiple women want to be her — but she’s a painfully lifeless protagonist. She rarely gets the chance to show off any positive traits, and her workplace success largely rests on Grey’s shoulders, rather than her own. A feminist piece of cinema, this is not.
The boring Ana-Grey romance dominates so much of the film that the plots involving Hyde and Ana’s stalker have only a few scenes to play out. Hyde disappears halfway through the film, serving as nothing more than a hint of what’s to come in the next film. Don’t hype yourself up for a showdown between Ana and her stalker — Grey will come to her rescue. This proves immensely frustrating, as the movie only skirts exciting waters, rather than diving into them.
Throughout the picture, Ana also encounters Grey’s old flame, Elena (Kim Basinger). Basinger alternates between smirking and scowling as Elena tries to discourage Ana from marrying Grey each time. The character is a one-note villain who proves ineffective in fueling any conflict between the main protagonists.
Another plot point that should’ve been cut is Grey’s helicopter crash in a forest. A news frenzy erupts as the authorities search for Grey, and the moment the news anchor announces he’s been found, Grey miraculously appears, emerges from the elevator and reunites with Ana. The helicopter crash accomplishes nothing for the plot and only superficially contributes to a decision Ana has already made. It’s a sequence where a conflict is set up and immediately castrated, wasting its time and its audience’s. Congratulations, movie, your scene was pointless.
Lacking bite and tension, “Fifty Shades Darker” won’t make anyone come. Valentine’s Day would be better spent under the covers.
“Fifty Shades Darker”
Running Time: 118 minutes
Score: 0.5/5 stars