Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Slip into something a shade darker

Who’d a thunk it? Hollywood actually turned British author E. L. James’ erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, into a competent film, one that would go on to make a butt-load of cash at the worldwide box office. While, sure, the movie wasn’t high art, it did shine a light on the veiled world of BDSM and its many practices. And despite all the flack it copped for degrading women, the film actually finished on an empowering note that saw the once timid Anastasia ‘Ana’ Steele (Dakota Johnson) walk away from the handsomely rich Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his kinky playroom, deciding that she was better off on her own, and that his dominant fetishes weren’t for her.

Shhhh ...
Shhhh …

Truth be told, this abrupt finale could’ve packed a bit of a punch had this not been the first film of a planned trilogy, the pair getting back together rather quickly (surprise, surprise), this rendering the prior flick’s unorthodox ending as a tease and nothing deeper. That said, the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, sees the wounded Christian Grey try to weasel his way back into Ana’s um, meat wallet, despite her latest distraction — her new job as an assistant to a Seattle publishing house editor and potential love interest Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Given Ana’s past reservations, all it takes Christian is a stalkish appearance at her friend José’s (Victor Rasuk) gallery exhibit (where he buys every photo she’s featured in) and a fancy-schmancy dinner, then voilà! They’re an item again, only this time they’ve got a ‘no rules, no punishment and no more secrets’ mantra attached to their, ahem, ‘relationship.’

Before you can fabricate a safe word, its ‘kinky f**kery’ as per usual with Christian shoving vaginal beads up Ana’s nether regions to ensure that she have a rousing time at his family’s charity masquerade ball, whilst forbidding her to go away on work trips with her hunky boss — you know, all the normal healthy relationship stuff. Alas, as the sexual experimentation (and soft-core porn) gets under way, shadowy figures from Christian’s past begin to pop up, these skeletons threatening to destroy the couple’s hopes for any kind of future together.

The belle of the ball ...
The belle of the ball …

With original helmer Sam Taylor-Johnson stepping out of Christian’s Red Room of Pain, House of Cards (2013) director James Foley takes on the daunting task of tackling the next two Fifty Shades escapades, this current chapter and the next, Fifty Shades Freed (2018), which is teased in a mini-trailer halfway through Darker’s closing credits. To be honest, Foley does a decent enough job considering he’s working from a schlocky script by James’ hubby Niall Leonard, his wife’s meddlesome hand much more evident this time around. To make matters worse for poor ‘ol Leonard, he seems to have gotten the short end of the sick, with previous writer Kelly Marcel translating the series’ most succulent bite. Although Darker’s advertising campaign alludes to mystery and suspense a plenty, by way of an unhinged, psychotic ex-submissive (Bella Heathcote) and a riveting helicopter crash, the film is monotonously flaccid, the narrative lacking any sort of conflict or threat — well, nothing that can’t be resolved in two shakes of a bondage belt.

Aesthetically, Fifty Shades Darker looks quite seductive, even if it lacks the sensual allure of the first outing, cinematographer John Schwartzman, Jurassic World (2015), staining the gloomy Seattle backdrop with a silky polish, while production designer Nelson Coates, Flight (2012), continues to indulge in James’ fascination with wealth, ensuring that a number of excessively art-directed functions take front and center. In any case, I don’t know who felt the need to put a giant overly distracting poster of Vin Diesel’s 2004 vehicle The Chronicles of Riddick in the background of Christian’s childhood bedroom, but that person should be fired, asap!

Fifty Shades Duller
Fifty Shades Duller

The score by returning composer Danny Elfman is, once again, solid with the soundtrack featuring a number of creamy soda pop tracks such as ‘I Don’t Want to Live Forever,’ performed by Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik, that soars while the twosome sail around in a lavish yacht, and Halsey’s ‘Not Afraid Anymore,’ which almost elevates one of the flick’s many repetitive bedroom scenes. I’m not quite sure how singer-song writer Van Morrison would feel about his track ‘Moondance’ being played whilst Christian pleasures Ana in a public elevator, though.

On the whole, performances are hardly titillating. Dakota Johnson, How to Be Single (2016), takes her clothes off a handful of times as Ana Steele and looks bored as bats**t when she’s not in the buff, while Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), has improved as the possessive, controlling Christian Grey (who’s still trying to buy Ana’s affection with gifts), the Irish actor, at least, sharing a semblance of chemistry with his (mostly) naked co-star — and to whom it may concern, I could’ve done without having to ogle over Grey during his morning workout routine. After being named as a major figure in Christian’s life — as the woman who introduced him to S&M when he was a teen — we finally get to meet Elena Lincoln, who’s portrayed by Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential (1997) — the character simply there to cop a beating. Dakota Johnson throws a cocktail in her face, Christian’s mom, Grace Trevelyan Grey (Marcia Gay Harden) stomps in from out of no where to slap her, with Basinger responding by dropping a napkin as if it were a mic — talk about pointless! Oh, Rita Ora also returns as Christian’s adopted sister Mia, who does a whole lotta nothing (which seems to be an unofficial motif for the movie).

Dressed to Impress
Dressed to Impress

Despite certain folks’ best efforts at crafting a somewhat serviceable pic, Fifty Shades Darker isn’t sexy, nor is it romantic, controversial or exciting, the movie just a big, fat, stinky brown shower (that no body asked for) and a darn right insult to the cheeky world of BDSM. Concluding with one of the most laughable, in-your-face cliffhangers of this (or any other) year, it’s likely that we haven’t seen the last of Ana, Grey or their toxic connection.

1.5 / 5 – Poor

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Fifty Shades Darker is released through Universal Pictures Australia