By Brad Haynes
Fifty Shades Darker
★ 1/2 out of ★★★★
As you’re probably well aware by the current advertising blitz, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are back for another installment of the Fifty Shades saga, Fifty Shades Darker. But is it really darker? And better yet, is there even much more than one shade to this movie? The answer is no.
After meeting, coming under the spell of Mr. Grey, and then not being able to “fully submit” to his desires, Fifty Shades of Grey saw Ana leaving Christian by film’s end. But in no time, at the beginning of the sequel, she is wooed back with the promise that things will be different this time. And different doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any kinky shenanigans involved this go round, it’s just that she will have final approval, and in some instances, actually initiate them herself.
But that doesn’t mean things will be easy for Christian and Ana. A mysterious boss of Ana’s (Eric Johnson), Christian’s teacher in all things erotic (Kim Basinger), and a lover spurned by Christian (Bella Heathcote) all show up to put a crimp in the couple’s romantic proceedings. And there’s a helicopter mishap that threatens to bring things to a crashing end as well.
With all of these elements involved, it would seem like Fifty Shades Darker would have plenty of momentum to build to a satisfying climax, but with an almost two hour length, it takes its sweet time getting to the end (which is really just a set up for the third installment, Fifty Shades Freed).
Along the way we’re treated to dialogue which seems to have been dumbed down significantly since Fifty Shades of Grey (this time around, the script was written by Niall Leonard, husband of Fifty Shades author E.L. James). Credit has to be given to Johnson and Dornan for actually being able to deliver much of this dialogue with a straight face.
In fact, Johnson and Dornan, who do make a sexy screen pair, tend to make the most of what they have to work with. Director James Foley, whose credits include At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, and much of HBO’s House of Cards, does likewise. There just doesn’t happen to be much to work with here though.
The film reaches it’s completely ludicrous low during a faceoff between Basinger’s Elena and Marcia Gay Harden’s Grace Grey (Christian’s mother). It’s a scene that makes the cat fight between Joan Collins and Linda Evans on Dynasty look Oscar worthy.
Even the film’s eroticism, for a film which boldly brings out kinky sex toys, is tame. There’s more heat in watching Dornan mount a pommel horse in his own private gym, showing off some fierce gymnastics moves, than there is in most of the film’s sex scenes.
It’s a beautiful movie to look at, but just like many things of beauty, there’s not much more to it.
The Good: Both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, manage to rise above the material.
The Bad: It’s eternal foreplay where nothing ever really seems to happen.
Final Word: Fifty Shades Darker is lovely to look at, but has very little to actually say.
Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Eric Johnson. Directed by James Foley.
Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
Rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.