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Fifty Shades Darker

Review:

Having ended her BDSM relationship with CEO Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is now working for a book publishing company run by Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). When she goes to a soiree at an art gallery hosted by one of her friends she is overwhelmed to see a large number of photographs of herself - and even more overwhelmed when she finds out that they have all been bought up by who other than… Christian Grey. He is also attending the event and promptly asks her to come to dinner with him and talk. She agrees - provided that it’s only talk.

When they converse over dinner Christian reveals that he’s the way he is due to the fact that his mother was a junkie who died when he was 4 years old. Ana, with her renewed sense of understanding of the man, agrees to restart their relationship on the condition that it’s strictly “vanilla” this time. The rest of the film follows Ana’s attempts to maintain their relationship while keeping Christian’s overbearing nature in check and fending off the unwelcome advances of her current boss Jack. There’s also the issue of a mysterious young woman named Leila (Bella Heathcote) who is stalking the couple.

While Fifty Shades Darker is undoubtedly a bad movie, I might as well use the first paragraph to accentuate the positives. It’s great-looking in a sumptuous, expensive perfume ad sort of way. The cinematography by John Schwartzman uses rich hues and subtle soft-focus to a very eye-pleasing watercolour effect. The production design by Nelson Coates brings the luxurious settings to wondrously-detailed life, making Christian Grey’s surrounding world suitably lavish and inviting. There are a few moments that are hilariously funny, though I hasten to add not intentionally - the lipstick-drawing “these are my boundaries” scene being a classic example.

The trouble is, these positives are the only things that make this snoozer at all bearable to sit through. Why is it nearly two hours long? It’s not as if we’re talking Lord of the Rings here. The plot is thinner than a single ply of tissue and shallower than a puddle rapidly evaporating in a heatwave. Most of it involves Ana and Christian talking, and talking, and talking some more about their relationship, and occasionally getting involved in some mildly kinky sexual activity. The dialogue is leaden and trite, and Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan make for the most spark-free, chemistry-free relationship in recent memory. Dakota at least tries her best here, but at the end of the day the script and director call on her to do little more than give off mousey, dimple-emphasising smiles, peer up through those cute doe eyes and bite her lip during the “erotic” moments. To describe Jamie as being like a plank of wood however is insulting to the flexibility of expression exhibited by planks. The handful of mild “steamy sex scenes” aren’t really worth wading through the miles of boring dialogue exchanges to get to.

Fifty Shades Darker does try in vain to imbue some momentum into the story by working in three characters who basically serve as obstacles to Ana and Christian’s relationship. Eric Johnson at least (unlike most of the other cast members) seems to be relishing his one-note role as Ana’s slimy, predatory boss. Bella Heathcote plays her creepy stalker act all morose and pitiful, her hair messed up and face covered in pasty white makeup which imbues her with the resemblance of a walking corpse. Kim Basinger picks up an easy paycheque with three scenes as Elena, the older woman who introduced Christian to BDSM and whose function in this “story” is to warn Ana that she’s not right for him. The trouble is that all of them just come and go without making any real impact on the film’s ultimate course. They’re just present here to kill time.

The Fifty Shades books and films have been widely criticised for being sexist in that they basically send the message that all a woman really needs is a wealthy, controlling man in her life. While they have a point you can also argue that none of the characters here (male or female) are particularly well-rounded or feel believable anyway; they’re just cardboard cutouts in a rather vapid romantic/sexual fantasy world rather than representatives in an accurate depiction of the power balance between two genders. It’s pap, but more to the point it’s dull pap. It’s hard to recommend Fifty Shades Darker unless you’re either a.) a die-hard fan of the books and the original film or b.) want to dissuade someone from taking part in a BDSM relationship by showing them a film that portrays it in an unusually dull light.

Runtime: 118 mins

Dir: James Foley

Script: Niall Leonard, from a novel by E.L. James

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden

Rating: ☆1/2

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