‘Fifty Shades Darker’ isn’t even good for a laugh

Images courtesy Universal Pictures.

1/10 Listen

Spanking isn’t kinky. It’s not even sexually explicit, it mostly exists in the context of corporal punishment. These movies are about this supposedly hardcore relationship that climaxes out at spanking and I just

Fifty Shades Darker picks up where Fifty Shades of Grey left off — just after Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) leaves Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) because she can’t handle spanking. Grey quickly gets her back, promising to just date her and not make her sign some insane contract, and they have a relatively normal, happy relationship for the rest of the movie.

There’s not really any conflict in Fifty Shades Darker, and it’s a huge problem. This movie is monotonous.

There are small spasms of conflict. Steele’s boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), is a creep and even tries to force himself on her at one point, but she fights him off and Grey swiftly ends his career. One of Grey’s former lovers, Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote), jealously stalks Steele, but Grey takes care of her after a brief confrontation. At one point, Steele confronts another former lover, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), who had abused Grey, but then that scene is over. Late in the movie, it appears that Grey died in a helicopter accident, but he didn’t.

These brief scenes are no replacement for the kind of overarching tension that’s supposed to drive a plot, which is almost completely absent in Fifty Shades Darker, and what little there is depends on a viewer having seen the first movie. Grey is walking on eggshells, afraid Steele will leave him again if he gets too kinky, but the movie is primarily composed of sex scenes in which Steele asks him to introduce her to more and more toys, so that tension quickly evaporates.

The sex scenes are the main draw and key distinguishing factor of this series, and they’re somehow even more boring than the rest of it. They feel like the interruption of a bad subplot — like when the Joker kept showing up in Suicide Squad and bogging everything down — with the stipulation that the plot they’re bogging down already wasn’t going anywhere. If the movie is a two-hour stay in a windowless waiting room, the sex scenes are pee breaks — a boring interruption of a boring main event.

As much as more viewers need to recognize that this relationship is unhealthy, there also needs to be more recognition that Grey is a victim as well. He violates romantic partners the same way he was violated, which is what abuse victims do when their trauma goes unresolved. That’s how the cycle works. He doesn’t need scorn, he needs help.

This is essentially an action movie that uses sex instead of action, and to cut the movie some slack, nobody’s really figured out how to do that several times in a single movie yet. Even stepping into actual pornography, there’s rarely any cinematography or storytelling that goes into it, just a reliance on viewers being horny. But movie history is marbled with several heated, character-driven sex scenes that feel intimate and revealing, like watching other people have sex should. In Fifty Shades Darker, it’s just porn with higher-quality cameras and the probability that she’s faking it replaced with certainty.

I praised the first movie for the merits it did have — director Sam Taylor-Johnson clearly looked at the story elements and thought, “I know this is crap, but let’s at least try to make this work.” Fifty Shades Darker director James Foley — it was only important to have a woman director the first time around, I guess — clearly looked at the story elements and thought, “Ugh. Let’s get this over with.”

The shots are static. The blocking is boring. Many scenes, nearly all of them in fact, have that peculiar smell to them that they were shot for the sake of shooting, not with any storytelling goals in mind.

Where it really shows up is the performances. Dornan and Dakota Johnson are completely still in dialogue scenes, made to perform almost entirely with their faces and not getting any room to give their characters a little life. Heathcote tries mightily, but doesn’t have any lines. Basinger is awful, and seems to be slurring most of her lines. Were these really the best takes?

Did they even do other takes?

There is absolutely no merit to this movie. It’s not even good for a laugh — there’s nothing outrageous enough, and most of the actors are trying hard enough that their performances aren’t silly.

Leopold Knopp is a journalism student at the University of North Texas. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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3 Responses to ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ isn’t even good for a laugh

  1. Pingback: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is the hardcore action movie you need | Reel Entropy

  2. Pingback: Director, studio knew ‘The Snowman’ was shockingly bad, released it anyway | Reel Entropy

  3. Pingback: ‘Fifty Shades’ series peters out | Reel Entropy

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