Mr Grey will see you… again.
In 2015, Sam Taylor-Johnson brought EL James’ incredibly successful first novel to the big screen, and 50 Shades Of Grey broke box office records on its release. Two years later, the sequel arrives, this time directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) after creative differences ended any chance of further involvement from Taylor-Johnson. 50 Shades Of Grey showed the start of a relationship between English literature student Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) and billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Doran), and follows a surprisingly straight forward romantic narrative. Grey is an emotionally distant, controlling young man and his bedroom preferences are simply an extension of this. Despite being intrigued, Steele cannot put up with “very singular tastes” and breaks off contact with him.
Following on from the events of the first film, Ana is ignoring Christian’s attempts at reconciliation, and has taken a job at a publishing house. She has made a good start to her role as assistant to the Fiction Editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), impressing him with her dedication and passion for literature. When she goes to a photo exhibition by her friend Jose (Victor Rasuk), she is shocked to see that most of the pictures are of her. This shock is only superseded by the person who buys the pictures – Christian Grey himself.
After a dinner date they agree to restart their relationship, only without the rules and punishments. Over the course of the film, Christian begins to open up about the childhood issues that have caused him to be so withdrawn and sadistic. However, Ana is being stalked by a distressed young woman (Bella Heathcote), and also meets Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger) the “Mrs Robinson” who seduced a young Christian and made him her submissive. There’s also Ana’s boss attempting to rape her. With so many hurdles in their way, can Ana and Christina possibly have a future? Does Ana have what it takes to make it in the world of publishing? And will Christian be satisfied with a vanilla relationship?
Fifty Shades Darker is not as uneven as Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s not a good thing. The style and sheen that Taylor-Johnson brought to the film is missing. There was also a sense that the first film knew when it was almost verging into pastiche territory. Ana walking out of her first meeting into the pouring rain, later absent mindedly playing with a Grey pencil – they knew what they were doing in those scenes. This lightness of touch is sadly not present here.
There’s nothing wrong with the film flaunting Christian’s wealth (the scenes on his huge boat do drag on a bit too long though) as they are establishing him as a fantasy figure. Similarly, there isn’t as much male nudity as you would expect from a film like this. He is a bit dull though. He doesn’t really have much of a character, and revealing a childhood trauma is not really a substitute for character development.
There is some truly horrific dialogue in Fifty Shades Darker. You will find it difficult not to cringe at some of it. The sex is also rather perfunctory, nothing explicit apart from some admittedly kinky additions. I avoid giving spoilers when reviewing a film, but there is a bizarrely serious development late on in the film that doesn’t serve any purpose at all for the characters, but does allows them to explain to the audience why they have gone from point A to B. There are three subplots that really don’t go anywhere, so I can only assume they are putting pieces in place for the conclusion of the trilogy.
I will give the film credit for addressing one of the controversial issues, when Grey admits that he is a sadist, rather than it simply being a part of dominant/submissive relationship. However, Ana Steele’s naivety cannot be ignored. She was a virgin in the first film so her sexual inexperience is understandable, however her lack of insight when it comes to Grey’s controlling behaviour is not. There are more red flags than Manchester United playing Liverpool the week of Barry’s Red Flag Emporium Closing Down Sale. In another film, Christian Grey is a serial killer. In fact…in a TV show with Gillian Anderson, he IS the serial killer!
Unfortunately the film makes it clear that the future of their relationship depends on Christian being able to accept a vanilla sexual relationship, which rather takes away Ana’s agency. At one point Ana has three people stalking her, as well as creepy obsessed friend Jose. To be honest, the creepy dialogue from any of the characters could be spoken by any of them. She does go on a journey of self discovery, but we have already seen her do it in the first film.
Dakota Johnson is fine here, and Jamie Dornan does what he can with a paper thin Grey. Kim Basinger deserves more screen time, but I assume she will be back for the threequel. However her climactic scene descends into a soap opera slap fest, so I don’t hold out any hope.
This film moves away from Twilight fan fiction… but I can’t recommend this on any level. Go and watch Secretary, or Blue Velvet, or even A Dangerous Method instead.
Until next time, stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.