UK Release Date: 10th February 2017
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: James Foley
Writer: Niall Leonard
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora
Synopsis: Anastasia and Christian rekindle their relationship, with rules and punishment set to one side, only to find that one of Christian’s former submissives is on their tail and seems to have something dark on her mind.
When literary phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey made its way to the big screen in 2015, it quickly became an easy target for film critics in search of a hatchet job. The film was actually a fairly competent adaptation of a truly terrible book and deserved credit for its ingenuity, sense of fun and impressive comedy scenes. The same is broadly true of follow-up Fifty Shades Darker, which maintains the same tone of bizarre silliness mixed with occasional flurries of kinky hanky-panky.
Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is desperate to win back Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who left him after the brutality of his sexual desires was too much for her to handle. Christian promises to try out a “vanilla” relationship with Ana, which angers Christian’s former flame Elena (Kim Basinger). As the couple get cosy in their new romantic life, former submissive Leila (Bella Heathcote) begins stalking the couple and Christian seems to think she’s a threat to Ana’s life.
The first mistake Fifty Shades Darker made was in allowing Sam Taylor-Johnson to vacate the director’s chair. New helmsman James Foley is a solid filmmaker, responsible for the likes of Glengarry Glen Ross, but he lacks the playful vision that Taylor-Johnson brought to the material when she made the first movie. There’s none of the stylistic flair that helped the first film’s sex scenes crackle and it’s all relatively straight-faced. Foley and writer Niall Leonard, who happens to be author EL James’ husband, seem more like a conduit for James’ wishes than creatives attempting to polish a literary turd.
Thankfully, Dakota Johnson remains a luminous presence in the central role and is able to carry much of the film’s nonsense and nausea shoulder high. She lights up the screen with her witty take on Ana and she is certainly able to take on a more dominant role here as she calls the shots over her relationship with Christian. We know from the excellent A Bigger Splash that Johnson can do beguiling sexuality, but her portrayal of Ana’s burgeoning sexual confidence is an intriguing and charming counterpoint to that. Jamie Dornan, meanwhile, is still like a rabbit caught in the headlights of terrible dialogue and worse characterisation. At least he looks great doing pull-ups.
Like all purveyors of dreadful fan-fiction, it’s clear that EL James thought the best way to approach the second installment in her series was to throw as much needless drama at Fifty Shades Darker as possible. There’s a ridiculous thriller angle involving a potentially violent former submissive of Christian’s and one of the more stupid helicopter crashes ever committed to cinema. It’s all a little too serious and there’s very little of the fun-loving comedy that helped to sweeten the first film. Perhaps the most shocking thing here is that, despite what the title suggests, this film’s bedroom antics are positively vanilla in comparison to the riding crops and belts of the first.
Much like its predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker is glossy, safe hen night fodder and is far from the great affront to cinema it is frequently dubbed. For every groan-inducing line of dialogue or crass nod to product placement – why hello there, Ben & Jerry’s – there’s a moment that has a joyful silliness or surprising sexiness to it. Again, it’s not high art and it’s more than a touch silly, but there’s plenty to enjoy in amongst all of the nipples and nonsense.
Pop or Poop?
Fifty Shades Darker is not substantially better or worse than its predecessor, though the new writing and directing team have made things rather less interesting in their desire to toe EL James’ party line. The sex is less stylish and the plot is more ludicrous, desperately piling on bizarre story strands. Johnson, though, lights up the film and there’s a certain gloss that means it’s never unwatchable. We’re all gonna have to go into the Red Room one more time next year, so it’s best to just buckle up and enjoy the ride – cable ties optional.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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