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Movie Review: #FiftyShadesDarker

Christian and Anastasia renew their bondage bloodlush in a film only a masochist would find inviting.

Review by Matt Cummings

I seriously could not believe how bad 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey was until I went back to my original review. The worst offense was that its story failed to elevate the burgeoning awareness of the lifestyle, settling instead on a flawed character who decides to impart his pain on an unsuspecting doe. It was also a terribly dull affair, offering zero chemistry between its leads, and plodding through its inane plot like a death march. Seen through those lenses, 50 Shades Darker is as faithful a sequel as one could imagine, a bland and boring affair that actually sees less bondage, more of that bad chemistry, and a plot that only a masochist would find inviting.

Fresh off her breakup, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is seeking big changes in her life, working for an ad agency while trying to put her painful breakup with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) behind her. But Grey won't have that, eventually offering Steele a powerful remedy for their relationship woes: Grey will pursue a strictly vanilla relationship with Ana. Intrigued by the notion, Ana returns to Christian's life, only to be swept up in his past loves, including his "teacher" (Kim Basinger) and a former submissive (Bella Heathcoat) who practices some Fatal Attraction on Ana's car. As Christian adjusts to their new relationship, Ana too faces challenges with her job, as boss Jack (Eric Johnson) makes her existence there nearly impossible, forcing Christian's hand in a way that will bring the two closer together than ever. But will Christian remain the dutiful vanilla, and can Ana keep this relationship from becoming a repeat of her boyfriend's previous spectacular failures?

Who cares. Darker quickly wraps up most of these questions within the first 30 minutes, but never seems to know when to quit. We're made to think these two are actually in love with each other, when really all we know is that Christian has money, Ana does not, and the two apparently have even less in common than they did in the original. There's no basis for a relationship here, and so the story plods on in an effort to make us think otherwise. There was much talk of these actors' disdain for each other while shooting the first film, and it seems like much of that wasn't resolved. There's zero chemistry between them and, bubbling up like a radioactive dump site. Sexually-tinged moments feel forced, and any effort by these two to genuinely love each other come off as practiced rather than what new director James Foley probably intended.

Replacing Sam Taylor-Johnson, Foley couldn't care less about the world outside of these two, filling those moments with the same gum-chewing moron brother (Luke Grimes), his girlfriend (Eloise Mumford), and Grey's doting mom (Marcia Gay Harden). They're all supposed to represent anchors for our leads, but none of them are around enough to do any such thing. Instead, this threesome is left to react rather than inhabit their roles. Basinger, once a sex symbol, hasn't been good in a film in awhile. She seems too old to be Christian's Domme: I truly wondered if anyone considered this before pairing Dornan who clearly could be his grandmother. Any interesting plot details - especially those between Grey's former sub Leila and Ana's new boss - are brushed aside fairly quick, as are the negotiations between Ana and Grey that renew their relationship. The best moment of this series continues to be the "negotiation scene" in the original. Here, we get a dinner, an overpriced bottle of wine, and voila! things are back to normal.

Of course, nothing in Darker is normal, including the "kinky fuckery" made famous by Ana to describe Christian's pursuits. Darker once again misses the opportunity to sexualize these moments of romance for the 21st Century, abandoning the notion that regular people enjoy the sport alongside seasoned lifestylers, and enforcing the notion that this kind of smut is somehow a bad thing. Darker still makes us think BDSM is embraced only by damaged people, who can't seem to find their sweet spot between sadism, masochism, and the normal pursuits of everyday people. In many ways, Darker quietly and conveniently sends the first two to their cages, leaving the latter to wonder why they bothered to see the movie in the first place.

It's entirely possible that someone is still waiting for 2018's 50 Shades Shades Freed, as that one was filmed alongside Darker. But that pool of interest is diminishing quickly, dragged down by yet another snoozefest that's poorly acted, poorly executed as a drama, and entirely misses the point of BDSM. Anyone who emerges from this one should ask for their money back, as it offers less frolicking than the original, hampered by two leads who still don't get along. Darker immediately enters my Worst-Of list for 2017 and should be avoided as a franchise at all costs.

Fifty Shades Darker is rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, and "kinky fuckery," and has a runtime of 118 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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