Let me get the positives of Fifty Shades Darker out of the way so we can start making jokes. 1) Star lighting showcases our “steamy” talent quite adequately. 2) As with its predecessor, the production design is well-conceived. 3) Academy Award-winner Kim Basinger appears, and should be in a better movie than this.
BDSM is still viewed in this film as a community of psychologically-broken people. This miscategorization is not only limiting, it is reinforcing terrible homogeneity. Not only is Christian a sadist because of abuse in his past, but it is hinted at that all of his previous “submissives” are insane and violently obsessed with him.
The script and narrative pace of this film is useless. Time is never taken to set up character, or character motivation, or narrative intrigue, or mystery, or compelling…anything. The plot of the film is that Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) get back together and…well, that’s about it.
Characters act in the way that is most convenient for the plot. Early on, a character who we later learn is an old sexual flame of Grey’s comes up to Anastasia on the street and stops her, then walks away without saying anything. Because the screenwriter thought this was an intriguing and frightening moment. It is not.
These characters and various plot points are added but serve no purpose. This previous character does very little in the film, and disappears with no resolution. A diversion involving a plane crash serves to add narrative stakes, but they don’t succeed in this regard (this sequence also unfolds so erratically and out of nowhere that it feels like it is coming from a different film).
Shots in this film are terribly composed. Awkward staging highlights the wrong areas of the frame. Look space is not framed correctly, leaving large gaps in frames. At least it’s in focus.
In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, there was a distinct cringy humor to the novelty of incompetence that the film put forth. In the case of this film, all that remains is the cringe, the points that raised humor in the first place now merely unpleasant.
Johnson’s breathy delivery and anti-female empowerment character. Dornan’s delivery coming from inside the plastic bag he can’t act his way out of and his anti-BDSM community character. The acting and characterization combination that we get in our romantic leads is bafflingly bland and offensive. The lack of chemistry remains, and it takes away any ounce of emotion that the film is trying to present to its audience.
Even the script lacks those brilliantly obnoxious lines that make for laugh out loud moments, which at least provided some ironic enjoyment from Fifty Shades of Grey. There are some lines that make you want to audibly shout “What?!” at the screen (Ana: “You’re not gonna put those in my butt;” Grey: “I don’t know whether to worship at your feet or spank you”). But there’s no humor in them; it is all just so baffling.
There is quite simply nothing feasible to grab hold of while you fall down this rabbit hole of wannabe smut. It is technically flawed. It is inarguably lacking in both plot and quality scripting. And the one thing the film markets itself on, the sex, is noticeably non-sensual. There is not a bit of sexiness or emotion in any of the numerous sex sequences that litter the film like acne.
There are films out there that take on sexuality in complex, smart ways. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I mentioned Secretary, a much more successful attempt at depicting a BDSM relationship.
Gaspar Noe’s Love makes a similar reach at the scandalous, and it achieves much more in this regard than Darker‘s tame soft-core venture. It also develops with a beautiful visual aesthetic that makes it interesting to look at, unlike this film.
Just this past year, The Handmaiden took on sexuality and the power dynamics within sexual relationships in a way that is both layered and heavily gratuitous in its sexuality.
The only means by which Fifty Shades Darker is sexy is that, technically, there are sex scenes in the film.
There is only one moment in the film that is genuinely, unironically amusing. It is a line Ana says to Christian about his cleaning woman while they stand in his sex dungeon: “Does she dust in here.” This is then ruined by Christian’s next line: [referring to what Ana is holding] Those are nipple clamps.”
But this moment reaches to an interesting question: What is up with that housekeeper? What’s her story? Can we have a movie dedicated to her undoubtedly gross job?
Does she dust in there? Is that in a deleted scene? Is she in the house when Christian’s getting down in dirty in his sex dungeon? How’d she get that job? How did Christian break it to her that her job would entail cleaning up after sex stuff? Does she work full time? Does she get dental?
Fifty Shades Darker: F
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)