"Fifty Shades Darker"
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2017
Running Time: 118 minutes
“No rules, no punishments, and no more secrets,” Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) tells Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) when the billionaire practitioner of BDSM begs his former submissive to give him at second chance at romance at the beginning of Fifty Shades Darker. Christian’s acceptance of Anastasia’s demands results in a sequel that dispenses with much of the sexual curiosity and kinkiness that made 2015’s truly horrendous Fifty Shades of Grey a 21st-century successor to the erotic nonsense peddled by Zalman King in the 1980s and 1990s. Sure, Christian still gets to indulge in some naughtiness with Anastasia that would make prudes blush with embarrassment, but for all the spankings and bondage gear on display, Fifty Shades Darker is considerably tamer than its predecessor. This is because Anastasia and Christian are now equals in the bedroom. Or the elevator. Or wherever they decide to engage in sexual activity. Christian remains the dominant but it’s really Anastasia who is in charge. It’s not so much as Anastasia turning the tables on Christian as an evolution of their relationship from sex partners to lovers. Anastasia enjoys being tied down to the bed every now and then, but she certainly is not interested in going as far as Christian did in Fifty Shades of Grey that led her to walk out on him at the end of the film. This does make Fifty Shades Darker less intriguing than Fifty Shades of Grey as Christian’s once-mysterious “Red Room” is reduced to nothing more than a bedroom with whips, chains and leather straps hanging from the walls. Oddly, though, the most sensual moment in Fifty Shades Darker—in both films, for that matter—involves Christian outfitting Anastasia with a sex toy for her pleasure while attending a masquerade ball. Sadly, even with James Foley replacing Sam Taylor-Johnson as the franchise’s new director, Fifty Shades Darker upholds the double-standard for nudity set by Fifty Shades of Grey. Full-frontal nudity—or as close to it as possible—is required of Dakota Johnson when her Anastasia gets down and dirty with Jamie Dornan’s Christian. All that is required of Dornan is a butt shot or two. In and out of the bedroom, there’s still a significant lack of chemistry between Johnson and Dornan. Most of this has to do with Dornan. The beginning of Fifty Shades Darker suggests that Dornan remains as dismissive of Christian and the film’s source material as he was in Fifty Shades of Grey. The closer Anastasia and Christian get in Fifty Shades Darker, and the more Christian drops his guard and inflicts less he pain on Anastasia, Dornan begins to show an interest in Christian the man as opposed to Christian the dominant. By the time Fifty Shades Darker ends, Dornan is at his most comfortable in Christian’s body, one that’s covered in scars from cigarette burns (a secret not revealed in Fifty Shades Darker). Johnson continues to exude sexual naïveté as Anastasia, but she also finds a playfulness in the way Anastasia now keeps Christian in check. Of course, Johnson and Dornan must contend with a script credited to Niall Leonard that is riddled with awful dialogue, subplots that go nowhere, and a last-act brush with death that is devoid of drama and is inexplicably resolved in the blink of an eye. To be fair to Leonard, these may be problems that stem the novel by E.L. James that could not be fixed under any circumstances. As with the Twilight Saga, the first installment of this franchise was directed a woman and she has now been replaced by a man. James Foley (At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear) doesn’t do much to improve upon Sam Taylor-Johnson’s silky smooth direction. But given Fifty Shades Darker focuses on Christian’s emotional and psychological journey from dominant to lover, reducing Anastasia to a bystander in her own story, Foley brings an undeniable male perspective to this tale of sex, longing and belonging. In a nod to Zalman King, his 9 ½ Weeks star Kim Basinger plays Elena Lincoln, the woman who seduced the underage Christian. Unfortunately, she never becomes the threat to Anastasia she’s positioned as in Fifty Shades Darker. Perhaps Elena and Eric Johnson’s Jack Hyde—a book publisher who runs afoul of Christian in Fifty Shades Darker —will factor into next year’s Fifty Shades Freer, the third and final film in the franchise. Having not read the books, I can only assume Elena and Jack unite to test the strength of the relationship between Anastasia and Christian. But now that this franchise has dispensed with the rules, the punishments, and the secrets, how much more needs to be told about these lovers that hasn’t already been told?
Aired: Feb. 9, 2017
Web site: http://www.fiftyshadesmovie.com