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Lacking enough chemistry, heat, or narrative friction to satisfy, the limp Fifty Shades Darker wants to be kinky but only serves as its own form of punishment.
Lacking enough chemistry, heat, or narrative friction to satisfy, the limp Fifty Shades Darker wants to be kinky but only serves as its own form of punishment.
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| Top Critics (39)
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Fifty Shades Darker is not darker or better. It's watered down, raincoat-brigade style erotica, even with the spiced-vanilla S&M.
Fifty Shades Darker, which fails so many tests of basic storytelling competence, is all the more stunning for its success at a task that most movies don't even bother attempting: depicting a woman's sexual pleasure.
The story of a woman who gives her man better values and a man who gives his woman better clothes, both of them suffering so much for a little bit of nookie.
Has even the target audience for this junk finally had enough?
A movie this bad deserves to have its flaws enunciated clearly...
The movies aren't so bad they're good. They're so brilliantly bad they're genius, with Foley dutifully presenting every inane plot point while gifting us excuses to laugh.
Like Kristen Stewart in Twilight before her, she is the conduit that lets the audience experience the dream of Christian Grey.
Far too often, the (film) has Johnson acting against a whispering wall of emotionless abs regurgitating lines off a page rather than a composed, professional performer.
I'm actually tempted to go back and give extra stars to other films I thought were horrible because before Fifty Shades Darker I didn't know what I didn't know.
This movie is more of a romance film than the first one and the actors seem to be a bit more comfortable in their roles.
It has some atrocious acting, and somehow Dornan manages to keep his trousers on for the first two-thirds of the movie. But (and I know this is damning with faint praise) it's not completely awful and Johnson in particular is rather good.
When "Darker" is light, it almost works. Those moments are few and far between.
Anime critic Jacob Chapman was once asked whether he would ever review hentai (Japanese animated pornography, for those not in the know). He replied that he wouldn't because it was impossible to review porn objectively. Other genres, he argued, could be judged according to certain seemingly objective standards (a good comedy makes you laugh, a good horror movie make you scared and so on), whereas porn rises or falls (ha ha) purely on the preferences of the viewer. In praising or criticising any given piece of erotic content, one runs the risk of projecting one's own sexual tastes onto the material and, in doing so, putting rather more than is necessary out into the public sphere.
When reviewing erotic thrillers or dramas, therefore, one always has to assess any film on the basis of its structural and narrative integrity regardless of our more bestial responses to its salacious moments. Compared to its predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker may provide more by way of titillation, with a conscious effort to make the sex scenes more daring and ambitious (and more public) than before. But once these sections are taken out of the equation, the film becomes a very listless and lacklustre affair - it's an erotic drama which is occasionally erotic but never dramatic.
One of the biggest problems with the first film was the lack of agency afforded to Anastasia as a character - something which, it is claimed, she has more of in the books. Without any form of serious resistance (or anything more than mild reluctance) on her part, the film resembles an anaemic version of Dracula, with the mysterious rich gentleman preying on the virginal beauty. If we take this aspect in isolation, Fifty Shades Darker does improve on its predecessor, insofar as they are more scenes of Ana putting her foot down and wanting a relationship on her terms. But in the wider context of things, the film makes so many other steps backwards that this improvement becomes barely noticeable.
Fifty Shades Darker (Darker hereafter) suffers from the increased role of E. L. James in its production. Whether you like her work or not, adaptations can often suffer from the author being too close to the work and stifling the screenwriter's creativity; as I mentioned in my review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, novelists who get involved in film-making so often lack the visual invention to match their verbal acrobatics. Kelly Marcel's script for the first film was largely flat and often risible, but you occasionally got a glimmer of effort being made to shape the material for the screen rather than kowtow to the author. This film's screenplay, on the other hand, comes from James' husband Niall Leonard; it feels more carefully controlled, so that the entire exercise becomes a means of indulging James' ego rather than serving the material or - heaven forbid - entertaining the audience.
This increased sense of control is also reflected in the choice of director. Sam Taylor-Johnson didn't see eye to eye with James during the production of the first film, so it isn't any real surprise that she decided to pull out of shooting the sequels back to back. Watching the film did feel like wading knee-deep through wallpaper paste, but you did at least get the impression of the director and cast trying to go against the tide of the material and emerge with something half-decent. With James Foley behind the camera as a workmanlike safe pair of hands, the characters have stopped wading and decided to lie flat on their backs on top, as the waves slowly drag them away. The film feels slow, ponderous and devoid of any pep when either or both of its leading players are fully clothed.
The sex scenes in Darker are an illustration of the film's central problem, which the increased role of James and the kid gloves approach of Foley both hint towards. Watching the scenes in isolation, they are decently assembled in terms of the editing and music compared to those in the first film, which often came across as clinical and awkward. The substance of the sex scenes is still tame by modern standards (the Emmanuelle series or The Story of O were far racier than this), and logic regularly takes a back seat; the film doesn't just not get how S&M relationships work, it doesn't always understand how ben wa balls operate. If you watched the sex scenes on their own, they may or may not do something for you - but they are not integrated with the film as a whole, and that's a big problem.
In order for an erotic thriller or erotic drama to work, it has to have a compelling story which the sex can either interrupt (in a bad film) or be a somewhat integral part (in a good one). The career of Andrew Davies (who adapted Tipping the Velvet and Fanny Hill for the BBC) is welcome evidence of this. You don't need the most cerebral or original story in the book - Basic Instinct isn't exactly Chinatown in its complexity - but if you don't find a way to integrate the nudity into the plot you end up with a film which feels like two different stories incongruously zipped together. If you don't care about the story, you may as well be watching porn; while Darker can titillate, it cannot captivate.
Once you take the sex scenes out of Darker, it becomes a boring, overwrought and very waxy soap opera, in which much is talked about but very little actually happens. Much of the action plays out like an episode of Dallas; here, as there, we get a lot of rich people swanning around doing rich people things and bickering over the tiniest detail. The ball scene is an awkward meld of Cinderella and Eyes Wide Shut, but without the wonder of the former or the creeping sense of dread in the latter. You may have a couple of moments of being impressed by the costumes or enjoying the music, but beyond that there is little to sustain our attention.
Even by the low standards of the first film, Darker is a poorly written piece of work. All the character issues that were present in the first film are magnified here; the more stuff Christian buys to impress Ana and convince her that he's changed, the more creepy and suffocating he becomes. For every moment where we are let in to some part of his subconscious and given some reason to question our initial suspicions about him, part of us is always on edge and wanting to leave. But even if the characters aren't an issue for you, the film is choppily plotted and quickly descends into travelogue footage; as in some of the weaker James Bond films, people go to exotic places for no apparent reason, stay there for hardly any time at all and then leave with no explanation.
This latter problem - exemplified by the section involving the helicopter crash - only serves to emphasise how stake-free the film feels, and how much its attempts at generating tension or emotional weight fall flat. It's easy to make cheap jokes about how the series started out as Twilight fan fiction, but the script for Darker plays out like fan fiction, insofar as it goes to ridiculous extremes to put the author's chosen couple together - the results of which are regularly an anticlimax. The arbitrary changes in location also prevent any real chemistry from building between the characters, and the attempts to bringing out a darker tone (such as in the opening scenes) feel either desperate or just too jarring to be effective.
The final aspect which prevents Darker from being even a passable erotic thriller is the performances. The on-screen relationship between Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson was always awkward, but here the awkwardness is increased by the plot's attempts at raising the stakes. Johnson's irritating breathy delivery is even more annoying here, and her attempts at sounding firm or frightened are unconvincing. Dornan, equally, is too deadpan and often seems to abruptly zone out in the middle of a scene. Where before the pair made an effort in spite of the material, here they are merely going through the motions. Mind you, they aren't the only ones who are unimpressive; Rita Ora is grating, Eloise Mumford is uninspiring, and Kim Basinger looks and performs like a waxwork animatronic. It's a million miles from her work in 9 1/2 Weeks, in terms of either raunchiness or screen presence.
Fifty Shades Darker is a dismal and dreary sequel which does away with most of the few qualities the first film possessed. In Foley's hands, with James looming over him in the background, the film quickly descends into a series of occasionally titillating sex scenes intercut with dull, poorly staged and entirely non-compelling character drama. It's not offensively bad enough to be terrible, but it is deeply unmemorable, leaving one feeling hollow, depressed and more than a little short-changed.
Throughout the years, cinema has had its high points and its low points. On average, there is a general 50% percent between the good and the bad, but Fifty Shades Darker is on a new level. Let's be clear and say that there really wasn't anything good about the first film. It was a horrible script with a bad plot that wasn't very exciting, but somehow Fifty Shades Darker makes the original bearable. I felt like I was in a trance during my viewing of this picture, wondering why I even chose to watch it. Slowly becoming fascinated with how atrociously bad nearly every single second was, I just had to finish it. If anything is worse than this film this year I will genuinely be shocked. Here is why this film should be seen by every filmmaker as a lesson on how to not make a film.
A film can take its time revealing what its premise is truly about in order to savour the flavour of its twists, but when a story never reveals itself, it makes its audience feel robbed. Following the conclusion that had Anastasia Steele leaving Christian Grey at the end of the first film, you'd expect that the sequel would be about one of them trying to win the other back, but that happens within the first five minutes of the film. For the next two hours, you will find yourself watching a series of dates, sex scenes, stalkers following them, and stupid injections into the so-called story that made the film laughable to say the very least. The plot of this film is that they date, develop some sort of relationship and eventually fall in love. That's it, seriously. With no inciting incidents and reluctance to have anything bearing happen, I found myself amazed that this film was even made.
Most critics hate on Johnson and Dornan for having zero chemistry with one another, but that was not an issue I had with the first film, in fact they elevated the lame premise for me. That being said, even I can see that neither one of them are giving it their all here. It felt like they were forcing kinky aspects into the film when necessary, solely for the purpose of stimulating the audience. For that reason alone I felt betrayed as an audience member. Making half a billion dollars at the box office the first time around, Fifty Shades Darker barely cracked half of that. It just goes to show that quality does trump all every now and then.
I've never read these novels, but it felt like the sequences that had the character of Leila stalking Christian was forced into the story to pad out the run time, making it seem like it had a bigger purpose than what was on the surface. From this stupid element to an element that has Christian facing someone from his past, to being able to overcome certain memories, everything about the small side plots throughout this film felt laughable to me. Look, I was one of the people that defended the original train wreck of a film for not being quite as horrible as people suggested it was, but there is absolutely nothing redeemable about this sequel.
In the end, there isn't a single audience I can recommend this to. Sure, it's aimed at older women, but I can even see them chuckling throughout a lot of this film. Their chemistry, along with the overall "plot" of this film was a step down from what was already a lacklustre film. From the horrendous dialogue to the laughter-inducing sex sequences with blaring pop music, Fifty Shades Darker feels like a parody of this genre, unintentionally. I honestly don't know how we live in a time where three of these films are being made, but this film is so terrible that I'm actually curious to see if it can get any worse than this. If you haven't seen either of these films, especially this one, you're doing yourself a very solid favour.
James Foley's Fifty Shades Darker may be a little darker, but still a bland grey sums it up.
For nearly 2 hours, the film delivers stuff, then sex, more stuff, then more sex, etc. The story is slow and tiresome, leaving very little to show other than the aforementioned sex scenes.
The highlight is obviously the erotic segments, which gives this film its R-rating. There are a good share of them, but nothing that pushes to an NC-17 rating, which is where this picture may begin to shine, just a little.
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are definitely easy on the eyes, but their performances don't help this picture in anyway. The characters may be written this way, and if so, it doesn't work on screen as it would in a book.
Fifty Shades Darker does have a kinkiness to it; just not enough to strip down and stand out.
I'll admit not understanding the appeal of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. The introduction into BDSM was a worldwide sensation and the 2015 first film made half a billion dollars, the kind of money usually reserved for movies featuring muscular men in rubber costumes that use whips and chains for different purposes. I happily watched the first film to get a sense of what the big deal was and was unmoved. For a film designed to be titillating and provocative, I came away wishing it had more action (of any sort). With great success, author E.L. James asserted more authority in the film series. Out went original director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who at least provided a sleek sheen to the final product and sexual tension where able, and in came new director, James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross). Out went the original screenwriter Kelly Marcel and in came a new screenwriter, James own husband Niall Leonard, which could only mean the threat of the film hewing closer to the book was a guarantee. James is giving fans of her popular though critically savaged romance novels more of what they want, and I guess what they think they want are relatively bad movies, limp sex scenes, and an inert romance.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is trying to get back on her feet after leaving her ex, billionaire and bondage enthusiast Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). He's got serious issues but won't stay out of her life. He has to have her back, and rather easily the on-again off-again couple is back on and back getting it on. However, their sex life is threatened with women from Christian's past and the question of whether he can settle down for good with such a plain Jane submissive like Ana.
There is a mystifying lack of conflict in the movie that makes 50 Shades Darker feel aimless. There are occasional bumps in the road in the form of old girlfriends still looking for their turn, and Ana's aggressively inappropriate boss (Eric Johnson), but they're dealt with almost immediately and without larger consequence. One of these antagonists is foiled by nothing more than a stiff drink to the face like a full-on Dynasty parody. Dealing with Christian's past seems like natural territory for a sequel. A character as cold and self-serving as Christian could very likely attract a host of dangerous women. Stalkers who cannot let go would present an organic threat to their relationship and Ana's literal life. A deranged former lover would provide a substantive question for Ana to deliberate. Is she doomed to the same fate? Bella Heathcote's troubled character is begging for attention but she is so unceremoniously sidelined to the point of hilarity, and then she's never seen again. Why should the story provide any question that these star-crossed lovers might not magically work out in the end? None of the mini-conflicts last longer than fifteen minutes before being effortlessly overcome, including a helicopter death scare. The shapeless plot structure is tediously airy, leaving too much space for characters and a world that doesn't warrant the consideration. You would think the extra time would be spent with lengthy, over-the-top sex scenes stripping away all inhibitions and pushing the boundaries of cinematic good taste, but that's not so much the case (more below). I knew we were in trouble when a sequence of Ana sailing Christian's yacht was as long as one of the so-called outrageous sex scenes.
Here's a prime example of just how poorly 50 Shades Darker is plotted. While dressing up for the masquerade, Christian admires Ana in lingerie. "You just going to stand there gawking?" she asks. "Yes," he replies. Later, she walks in on him exercising shirtless and getting all sweaty while practicing for the Olympics on a pommel horse. It's a flip of the male gaze, for once in the movie's two hours. This is obviously a prime spot to repeat the dialogue exchange for a clever payoff, have Christian ask if she is going to just stand there gawking and her answer be in the affirmative. This movie cannot even do that! 50 Shades Darker doesn't just fumble the big things, like plot and character and tone, it fails to even achieve modest, easily reachable payoffs that can be as ludicrously obvious.
Devoting more time with Ana and Christian outside of the bedroom is also best not advised. These one-dimensional characters are also barely removed archetypes from late night soft-core porn. Ana is an audience cipher but she's also one incredibly dense human being. Forget the annoyingly mousey acting tics that Johnson (How to Be Single) is instructed to never abandon, this is a lady who just doesn't get it. She's had sex with her dude like minimum a dozen times and she's never noticed the array of scars across his chest? After her boss tries to force himself on her, she fights back and runs into Christian's arms, and he gets the guy fired (because a woman reporting a sexual assault on her own is not convincing enough?). Hearing the news, Ana acts deeply confused, as if she cannot understand why her boss is now not her boss. Did she just forget the upsetting assault? Every man in this universe seems to find Ana uncontrollably irresistible. She's the ultimate prize to be owned. Even her own friend, who clearly has a crush on her, creepily makes her the centerpiece of his photography gallery show without her consent. She can huff and puff all she wants about agency but Ana is still a woman looking for her prince to sweep her away to a land of exotic privilege. Her reason for accepting a dinner date with Christian: she's hungry. That's fine, not every romance needs to be progressive or healthy, but when that guy is as controlling and worrisome as Christian Grey, then the romance starts to sour and become an exhibit of toxic misogyny. And that's before Christian reveals that Ana, as well as his previous subs, looks like his dead mother.
Christian is your dark, brooding, oh so attractive as the bad boy but he's defanged, turned into proper boyfriend material, the kind of guy who would drop down for an old-fashioned proposal of a girl's dreams. In other words, the movie makes him boring. He's still problematic as a romantic partner. While he swears this time will be different and no finely worded legal contracts are necessary, he's still a controlling jerk and a boor. Even during his "please take me back" dinner he's attempting to order for Ana. He deposits money in her account despite her protests, he buys the publishing company she works for to become her ultimate boss even outside their relationship, and he's constantly insisting she is his and his alone in the creepiest of declarations. The movie seems to think it's found a palatable excuse to explain away his warning signs. His mother, depicted in a hilariously sad picture that looks like a Wal-Mart family photo from a refugee camp, died of a drug overdose at a young age and he was physically abused by his father. It's a slapdash, simplistic cover for his bad behavior. Another strange discovery: the childhood bedroom of Christian Grey has a framed poster of 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick. I know Universal is trying to play some studio synergy here, but come on. How old is Christian supposed to be? Also, HE HAS A FRAMED POSTER OF THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK.
All of this can be moderately forgivable if the movie more than makes up for where it counts with fans, namely steamy and scorching sex scenes that were the hallmark of the lurid book series. While the first film was far from perfect, or even adequate, let it be said it still could constitute an erotic charge when it desired. With the sequel, the sex is shockingly lackluster. There are only four full sex scenes and they start to become weirdly routine. You anticipate that Christian will spend a little time here doing this, and little time there doing that, and then as soon as would-be penetration comes into being they oddly jump forward and spare the audience the sight of sexual congress. It's different minor tracks of foreplay and then the movie seems to shy away from the sex itself. For something this supposedly kinky it becomes strangely mechanical, predictable, and boring. Another irritating feature is that every sex scene is accompanied by a blaring rock or pop song. It announces itself with what I call "sex guitar music." It blares over the scene and makes it difficult for the viewer to better immerse in the scene. Some of the music is downright nails-on-chalkboard awful from a tonal standpoint, creating its own source of comedy. The absolute most hilarious musical pairing is Van Morrison's "Moondance" while Christian is fooling around surreptitiously with Ana in a crowded elevator. Go ahead and look up the song and come back to this review, I can wait. The jazz flute playing over the scene is certainly... different. It might be the worst sex scene song pairing since Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in Watchmen. I stayed until the end credits and counted 27 songs used in a 118-minute movie. Reportedly there's a score by Danny Elfman in the film but I challenge you to find it (easiest paycheck of his career).
If you'd like to be spared the turgid two-hour experience, I'll spoil the specifics of the sex scenes in this paragraph so you can see how truly tame the movie is for something so reportedly transgressive and kinky. The first sex scene is their reunion as a couple and he undressed her, goes down on her, then climbs atop, then it's over. The second involves him spanking her, upon her request, then he goes down on her, climbs atop her, then it's over. The third sex scene involved Ben Wa balls as foreplay reminiscent of the superior and far more erotic Handmaiden (seriously see that Koran movie like 1,000 times before this), or was that the second sex scene? As I type this, it's only been mere hours since I left my screening and I can't recall the general details of the third sex scene, that's how boring it was. The fourth is more montage but it's an unleashed exuberance of sexual id. Christian dumps an entire bottle of massage oil onto Ana's breasts, which seemed impatient and wasteful to me, but I'm not a billionaire. I cannot overstate just how dull and lazily staged the sex scenes are in the film, extinguishing any kind of titillation and strangely demurring once things get passionate. The nubile bodies are on display, Johnson's in semi-permanent arched back, though Dornan is often coquettishly obscured (sorry again, ladies). The word that seems most appropriate for the sex scenes is "anticlimactic." Ana jokes that she's a vanilla girl and trapping Christian into a plain relationship, and their big screen sex life typifies this (anyone remember Ana's question about what a butt plug was?). It's a world of kink where nipple clamps are giggle-worthy accessories to the participants and the go-to sexual position is missionary. This movie is not the daring dip into untapped sensuality it's been made out to be. It's much more conservative at heart.
Ironically, 50 Shades Darker is a curiously reserved romance that lacks serious heat. The actors have very little chemistry and are fighting losing effort to convince you just how sexy they find one another. Dornan still seems like a dead-eyed shark to me. I know people aren't going to this movie for the story, but some better effort could have been afforded rather than false conflicts that are arbitrarily resolved one after another. It's an empty fantasy with boring characters and timid sex scenes that register as sub-soft-core eroticism. I wrote of the original film: "Surprisingly boring and rather tepid, 50 Shades of Grey feels too callow to be the provocative film experience it wants to be. It needs more of just about everything; more characterization, more organic coupling, more story, more romance, more kink. It is lacking in too many areas, though the production values are sleek, like it's the most technically accomplished episode of Red Shoe Diaries." Every criticism is still valid and even more so. Whereas the first film was about the flirtation and exploration of the coupling, the sequel inevitably treads the same ground, watching pretty dull people get dressed in pretty clothes and then take them off. For a book series so infamous for its tawdry smut, I was expecting more smut or at least better smut.
Nate's Grade: C-
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