Fifty Shades Darker picks up shortly after the events of Fifty Shades of Grey when Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) abruptly leaves Christian Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) “Intro to BDSM” class after realizing it’s all kinds of messed up. She finds work for a publishing company in Seattle being the assistant to Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), a man who seems like a much better catch than Christian, at first sight at least.
Ana finally seems rid of Christian, even attending a photo exhibition of her friend, Jose (Victor Rasuk), who still harbors feelings for her as seen by the many pictures of Ana displayed at the event. Before Jose makes a move, however, the stalker-like Christian reappears, requesting some talk time with Ana. She acquiesces, and before long, Christian manages to convince Ana to take him back, within the span of a minute or so.
To liven things up this time around, Ana and Christian face a handful of obstacles that seem promising at first. There’s the attentive gaze of Jack Hyde, Ana’s boss, trying to use his superiority at the workplace for something more with her. There’s a former submissive of Christian’s, Leila (Bella Heathcote), who tries to reassert her stake in Christian’s life. And finally, there’s Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the woman who introduced Christian to his alternative sexual subculture while he was only a teen. She was a frequent mention in the first installment, much to Ana’s ire, and we see her in the flesh this time.
Unfortunately, one of the disappointments with the middle chapter of the franchise is that these promising hurdles amount to nothing. They prove to take up very little space, in Darker at least and pose no viable threat to Ana’s and Christian’s relationship. Jack Hyde, Leila, and Elena are no match for Ana and Christian, providing their love Superman-like qualities. The only difference is that Superman had kryptonite and there is none in this film.
What stands out about this film is its Seinfeld-inspired nature. This film is about nothing. Absolutely nothing. There seems to be no hardly-defined narrative arc for the characters, especially given Ana’s early persuasion in the first act. Many viewers could find this refreshing. It’s a stress-free movie where you get to enjoy a billionaire woo a pretty woman from start to finish, and along the way, he tries to suppress his more sadistic nature for said pretty woman. That’s called love, I guess. The primary transformation the audience should focus on is Christian, and whether he can change his character to attune to Ana’s needs. Can he be a normal guy? If the outside stressors like Elena and Leila were more active participants in the movie, it would have been great to witness, but for the most part, Christian’s arc plays out quite freely with very little hardships.
The chemistry between the two actors also feels off with Darker. In Fifty Shades of Grey, the duo had an awkward chemistry that was interesting to see given their mismatch of personalities. With Christian trying to be a “better” guy this time, that spark is somewhat missing as he dampens down his core sense of self. However, as he attempts to relinquish his “dominant” nature, there is some humor to be added to the film watching him try to treat a woman as an equal, rather than an employee or piece of property contractually obligated to satisfy his dark sexual desires. It’s like watching a caveman working with new tools or seeing fire for the first time.
As with the first film, Darker ushers in some novel sexual acts that make you cock your head up every now and then, but it doesn’t live up to the “Darker” part of its title. The activity is rather mild, and the director seems to focus more on the romantic aspect of the relationship much like in the first. So even if the movie is titled Fifty Shades Darker, don’t expect Christian to pull out an electric whip or a taser.
The cinematography was on par with expectations and there weren’t any questionable shot choices that would make you giggle like in the first film. The camera work, set design and costumes complement each other, doing a great job of illuminating what a billionaire’s life would look like. Scenes of masquerade balls and auctions are rich with the kinds of excess you can expect, fancy clothes, expensive food, polite laughter and all the accompanying junk.
In summation, Fifty Shades Darker is an expensive episode of The Bachelor but the bachelor in question has more depth of character. It’s one of those final episodes where the bachelor takes one of the girls on expensive dates, spends time with them at night, and introduces her to his family, but with a longer running time. Or it’s like Seinfeld. Nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. Just watch a couple go about their relationship doing kinky things and seeing if they can take it to the next level. It’s a stress-free movie experience for a weekend night. Escapism at its finest.
- Plays out like an episode of Seinfeld or The Bachelor. There’s no strong narrative arc but the movie is a decent night of relaxed watching.
- Christian trying to be normal is quite fun. Imagine a fish out of water… dying.
- Cinematography, costumes, and set design are commendable components.
- Rita Ora has a cameo if there are any fans out there.
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Movie Info (From the Hollywood Reporter)
Production company: Universal Pictures
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Luke Grimes, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk
Director: James Foley
Screenwriter: Niall Leonard
Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, E.L. James, Marcus Viscidi
Director of photography: John Schwartzman
Production designer: Nelson Coates
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce
Composer: Danny Elfman
Casting directors: Laray Mayfield, Julie Schubert
Rated R, 117 minutes