Director: James Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Kim Basinger
The reviews of the sequel to 2015’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ have been dire, pretty much across the board. However, the worse the reviews have been (particularly from male critics), the more determined I was to go into this film and enjoy it – to prove the critics wrong. Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of the books. But, I have seen the first film quite a few times. I don’t hate it. However, the sequel is a LOT worse. You may think the bar had already been set pretty low. Well, somehow the ‘Fifty Shades’ team have managed to sink lower.
What really frustrates me about this, is that this film is not helping the cause of making more quality (or at least, fun) films with a specifically female audience in mind. Make no mistake – these books and films are for women, however much they try to sell the ‘couples’ date night on Valentine’s Day’ angle. This film is much more likely to be seen by gangs of girls (possibly on Galentine’s Day – a Leslie Knope invention for the day before Valentine’s) and I don’t like the thought of these women being looked down upon for enjoying this sort of film. What I’m trying to say is that it’s slim pickings – even the romantic comedies and Nicholas Sparks films seem to have dried up. We had the recent delights of the two ‘Magic Mike’ films (genuinely good films – I won’t hear otherwise), but other than that, there are so few sexy films out there for a female audience. So, I understand why the ‘Fifty Shades’ films do well at the box office. It’s the perfect film for a ‘girls’ night out’. I just wish they were better.
The first ‘Fifty Shades’ film was, of course, directed by the artist Sam Taylor-Johnson and her departure may be the explanation for the big dip in quality. Much like the first ‘Magic Mike’ (directed by Steven Soderbergh), the visuals and the soundtrack were better than perhaps the material deserved. Whereas ‘Magic Mike XXL’ maintained the woozy, sun-drenched feel of the first film, this ‘Fifty Shades’ sequel just feels like everyone (particularly the two stars) have just shown up to fulfill their contractual obligations and get their pay cheque. The story manages to be both boring and ridiculous. It appears as if Ana has officially ‘tamed’ the sadistic Christian and shown he is capable of love and commitment and all that jazz. She has somehow ‘cured’ him, despite the fact he’ll barely acknowledge his troubled childhood. The proverbial spanner in the works come in the form of two pantomime villains – Ana’s creepy boss and ‘Mrs Robinson’ (Kim Basinger) – the woman who taught Christian the ways of the dominant/submissive when he was a teenager. Of course you expect the script to be cheesy, but these two characters have scenes towards the end of the film that made me laugh out loud.
Much has been discussed about the sex scenes. I don’t have a problem with what some consider the more ‘abusive’ aspects – I do actually think valid reasons are given for both characters to want to indulge in S&M and it was clear from the first film, that when Christian crossed a line that Ana wasn’t comfortable with, she walked away. Many people argue that the sex scenes are completely ‘unsexy’ across the board, whereas I would say some are and some are not. The more ‘extreme’ the scenes (e.g. The Red Room scenes), the more ridiculous and less sexy they are, for me. There wasn’t as much tension or emotional drive to those scenes in this film, as Ana and Christian are in a more settled place than the first film. These films are perhaps more about ‘wealth porn’ than actual porn anyway. Maybe it is Christian’s bank account more than his whip that is appealing to the audience?
So… is ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ a good film? No, it is not. It is in fact, a laughably bad film at times and not in an enjoyable ‘so bad, it’s good’ way. However, I will absolutely defend people who do like and enjoy it. I understand the fact that it will do well at the box office. Those gangs of women who go out for a few drinks and watch ‘Fifty Shades’ are not morons (as I’ve seen them described on Twitter). They are an audience crying out for a film they feel is for them. They should not be patronised or condescended to by (overwhelmingly male), snobby film critics. Some films are trashy and popular and fun and while I might argue the last of those three, ‘Fifty Shades’ fulfils this need in the market. It is a modern-day ‘Mills and Boon’ on the big screen and I really do not have a problem with that. You can be a feminist and like ‘Fifty Shades’. You can be a cinephile and still understand why ‘Fifty Shades’ exists and finds its audience. Of course I wish that those women (and me) had more choice and a better choice. But until that happens, we’ll have to make do with ‘Fifty Shades’ and Nicholas Sparks.