|Photo Credit: Fifty Shades Darker / Universal Pictures|
Fifty Shades of Grey concluded with the literal door closing in Christian's (Jamie Dornan) face along with his aspirations of making Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) his full-time submissive. She leaves of her own free will (yay!!) to bigger and better things ahead until Darker brings them back together after the tiniest of separations. But a dosage of obstacles start challenging their relationship as Ana tries to establish new demands from 'the boyfriend' and her boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) becomes creepy and possessive over her as his assistant. Meanwhile ghosts from Christian's past like an ex-sub Leila (Bella Heathcote) and ex-dominant (Kim Basinger) simply can't let him go.
Author E.L. James and passionate readers would say the star-crossed lovers are focused on building a future together so nothing deters their love. Others will recognize that every conflict threatening to drive them apart are solved through limitless wealth and sterile sex. If a young woman establishing her wants both in and out of the bedroom could be argued as the overall arc, it increasingly exists out of mere convenience. Every time Ana doesn't want to be bought, Christian counters with sex, money, a charity ball, moving in, marriage, to steal her attention away. Even if Mr. Red Flags changes his nature over time, i.e. the dominant becomes the submissive, Ana's non-sexual wants (a job, independence, transparency) are often muted by Christian's privilege. What may be a tantalizing fantasy for readers on the page becomes an absolute hindrance on-screen as any issue the lovebirds encounter are frustratingly handled off-screen via Grey's limitless power.
So the sequel ends up relying on what it's most known for (sex) to make up for a dubious romance.
However, it merely follows in the same footsteps of the first movie of inserting sex to divert interesting conflicts between the leads and becomes even more sterile in its intimacy. Especially since Johnson still displays more than she should in an even stronger male-gaze aesthetic. Where the first movie could make the hook-ups at least tolerable, Foley lacks the judgment to properly set any tangible mood for the sex scenes, even the most vanilla kind.
If there is something to be had for Darker, it's all the best elements of the first movie - the cast and high expectations of production design, costume, and soundtrack, carry over well. As far as performances go, Johnson carries the film by still making us believe that Ana is genuinely invested in giving Christian more chances to change and open up to her. Her maturity on the type of woman she wants to be evolves, even if the script holds her hostage to Christian's whims. And because of that, unfortunately, the alluring nature of her co-star wears a crucial element of her story thin. Though Dornan is quite personable and charming when he doesn't have to deal with Grey's dark, twisted history, any commanding presence the character could have falls flat when Dornan's afforded scenes to dig deeper. As much as the story could intend exploring Ana's wants and needs in life, Christian the dominant becoming the submissive to her must be thoroughly read between the lines.
Established from the get-go by director Sam-Taylor Johnson, Fifty Shades's world remains visually elegant and sleek. Even with writing, production, and costume team alterations, her influence continues with the sequel's opulent, minimalist sets and luxurious wardrobes. Even the soundtrack, which initially kicked off with Beyonce, The Weekend and Ellie Goulding, is matched this time around with 'not being in love equates dying a thousand deaths' ballads by Sia, Taylor Swift with Zayn Malik, John Legend and Halsey. With the exception of a new avenue for the story to wander, Foley serving as the new director imprint is nearly impotent.
Unlike most adaptations where the book rarely lives up to the movie or transforms non-readers into fans, Fifty Shades Darker falls right in line for whom the film is made: E.L. James, her devoted readers, and perhaps curious hound-dogs. For all intents purposes, the sequel is posh enough to gawk at. But if you're looking for anything more than sex, which critics clamoured for and still didn't get, the story leaves everyone and everything pretty much impotent.
for readers: ★★★
for everyone else:☆☆☆