Fifty Shades Darker

2017-02-10 07:05

What it's about:

Following on from the events of Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia and Christian try to give their relationship another chance, even as obstacles – both inside and out – threaten to tear them apart.

What we thought:

In my review for the film, I went through some lengths to defend Fifty Shades of Grey as a film never really had a chance to transcend its dodgy source material but one that gave it the old college try anyway. Director, Sam Taylor-Wood gave the film a sense of style that elevated the clumsy trashiness of its source material, while Dakota Johnson's wry, nicely-modulated performance undercut the sheer absurdity of everything else going around her. Even Kelly Marcel's script improved somewhat on E.L. James' largely atrocious dialogue.

(For reference sake, I should point out that I haven't read the books in full but I have sampled a chapter or two of them to get an idea of what the fuss was about. And yes, that included some of the naughty bits, which were easy enough to find as, like any R-rated action film from the '80s or '90s, at least some of them were situated smack in the middle.)

Fifty Shades Darker, however, is less “darker” and more much, much, much “crappier”. Anything that even remotely worked about the first film was largely removed for the second film and what was already bad in Fifty Shades of Grey became significantly less tolerable in its followup. That it's total softcore-porny trash goes without saying but that it doesn't even work on that level tells you everything you need to know about just how bad the film is on even the most basic level.

Director James Foley was once known as the man who directed the undeniably excellent, if perhaps overly alpha-male, Glengary Glen Ross but he only feat he has accomplished here is turning the Fifty Shades movies every bit as bad as they ought to be on paper. His direction here is lifeless and phoned in with neither the zip and vitality of Glengary Glen Ross or even the sheen of Taylor-Wood's take on the first part of the trilogy. Also, though I do wonder if the film was simply badly projected at the screening I attended, I also noticed a badly lit, monochromatic murkiness to the film – that was actually at its worst during those all-important sex scenes.

Worse even than Foley's hack job, though, is the jawdroppingly awful script by none other than Ms. James' husband, Niall Leonard. Allegedly, the author came to blows a few times with the people behind the film adaptation of her first novel, which probably explains just why the quality of writing here is such a gigantic step down from the already iffy screenplay of its predecessor, as Leonard clearly has fallen more in line with his wife's vision.  

The dialogue is even more ear-scrapingly awful than last time around and the plot has none of the simple straightforwardness of the first film, instead dropping in one irrelevant plot point after another, each adding up to a film that goes nowhere very, very slowly. Yes, there is a major change or two to the central relationship but Christian Grey remains such a skeevy, borderline sociopathic creep (albeit slightly less so as the film progresses) that nothing about that relationship made any sense in the first place. And this time around the actors do nothing to move things along, as Dornan seems as lost as ever in his utterly thankless role, while Johnson looks for all the world like someone desperate to move onto something better.

Ultimately, though, the big problem at the heart of this whole enterprise is that the Fifty Shades books are first, foremost and entirely smut – or porn or erotica, if you prefer. All the bits with characters and plot are really there for no real purpose other than to ramp up and build tension towards the BDSM-inflected smuttiness that has clearly struck the, um, correct cord with millions of readers around the globe, and, for a while at least, launched erotic literature firmly into the mainstream. The films, however, never really had the chance to work on this level as there was never a chance that sex scenes with the level of detail depicted in the books could ever find there way into a mainstream Hollywood film. 

While the first film did its best to work its way around this by paying a lot of attention to its sex scenes, which were undeniably fairly tame but also – perhaps less undeniably – fairly effective in their softcore tittilation, the second film comes across as totally uncommitted to its major selling point, with scenes that are poorly lit (though again, that may just have been the projection), short and almost perfunctory in their presentation. They're not totally lacking, I suppose, and the two stars provide plenty of eye candy for all kinds of viewers (the classically handsome Dornan is clearly the draw here but the hardly unattractive Johnson shows the most skin) but they're certainly not reason enough to sit through the other 110 minutes of pure, unadulterated tosh. 

I know, I know, this film is going to clean up at the box office regardless of what I or other critics says about it but, honestly, are there not far, far better romantic films out there to get you in the Valentine's Day spirit (though, crucially, NOT Valentine's Day, the movie) and even more options to get you in the Valentine's Day mood? 

Ah well, at least it's still better and funnier than Fifty Shades of Black. That's something, I guess.

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