Thursday, 9 February 2017

Fifty Shades Darker

(MA15+) ★★

Director: James Foley.

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger.

Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) 
are back for more kink in Fifty Shades Darker.

CONFESSION: I was one of the few film critics that gave Fifty Shades Of Grey a good review.

For all its flaws, the first film took its apparently atrocious source material and turned it into a well shot and often intriguing allegory for domestic violence (at least that’s how I viewed it). If Fifty Shades Of Grey was in black and white and subtitled, I can’t help but feel critics would have been losing their minds over it.

Perhaps the biggest saving grace of the first film was Johnson’s performance. She made Anastasia Steele believable as she grew from naive girl-next-door to a strong woman figuring out what she wanted, and what she was willing to give up to get it.

Second time around, Johnson is still great, but she can’t save what is ultimately a boring sequel. There are still touches of the first film here, but there is even less plot and far less intrigue, despite the fact the potential is there.

Having walked out on sadistic playboy Christian Grey (Dornan) at the end of Fifty Shades Of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker finds Anastasia making her way in the world. She has a new job and is still single, but she can’t seem to shake Christian (partly because he’s stalking her). For better or worse, she decides to give him another shot after he promises that his days of whips and chains are behind him.

The rest of the film is the equivalent of living in a sharehouse with a couple – it’s uncomfortable and confronting at first, but eventually becomes tedious, annoying and lame. Christian and Anastasia’s attempts to rekindle their relationship are uninteresting and even the frequent sex scenes become monotonous. Big screen romances survive on their sexual tension, but because that was all used up in the first film, there’s nothing to keep you interested in this beyond the sheer voyeurism of it.

There’s no tension of any other kind either. Potentially interesting subplots pop up and are dismissed within a matter of minutes. A couple of women from Christian’s past bob about in the narrative but either don’t rock the boat enough to be of interest or literally disappear just when they get interesting. In true franchise-building fashion (yes, a third film comes out in 2018), a villain is set up for the next film but it would have been nice to have a villain in this film, or someone of some interest to create some tension – anything really to break the monotony of the should-we-shouldn’t-we talking and shagging, which is pretty much all that happens in Fifty Shades Darker.

On the plus side, the film is again well shot, Johnson is once again great and Dornan is actually better this time around. While the issues of domestic abuse, power and trust remain, thematically this is about addiction. Christian’s peccadilloes are painted as something he has to give up – urges he must control – for the relationship to work. This helps make Christian a more interesting and potentially likeable character, despite the fact he’s still creepy, controlling, and a tad frightening. Yes, he’s a cashed-up stalker with mummy issues who gets off on abusing women, but there are moments where you almost feel sorry for him (“almost” being the key word here).

There have been calls to boycott this film because it’s about abusing women. Honestly, you should boycott it because it’s boring, not because it deals with adult issues that might make grown-ups talk about them. Christian’s behaviour is supposed to be unlikeable – that’s kinda the whole point of both films and the central quandary facing Anastasia. It’s what made the first film interesting and why her character leaves him at the end of it. The second film sees him trying to make amends, be a better person, and yes, his attitude still leaves something to be desired, but again that’s the point. Why do women stay with abusive partners? Why are partners abusive in the first place? These are questions both films flirt with in their own glitzy and inane way, but again, these are adult issues that might make grown ups talk about them, and that is not a bad thing.

But all that aside, your main takeaway from Fifty Shades Darker should be that it’s boring. After being surprised by Fifty Shades Of Grey, you can now colour me disappointed with Fifty Shades Darker.

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