It’s important we establish right off the bat “Fifty Shades Darker,” much like its predecessor “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a good movie. At all.
But, just because something isn’t any good doesn’t mean it can’t still be interesting, and it would be a mistake to dismiss the “Fifty Shades” series out of hand without considering what it has to say about love and lust here in the second decade of the 21st century.
It’s also important to note “Darker” is better than “Grey,” which, to be fair, is like noting touching tinfoil to a filling is better than a root canal.
More than anything “Grey” turned out to be a colossal bore, which was probably the last thing you would expect from the first installment of E.L. James’ best-selling, erotic trilogy.
But, the introduction of the torrid romance between kinky billionaire playboy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and wide-eyed innocent Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) landed with a creative thud.
There was a shakeup behind the scenes and “Darker” brought in a new director (James Foley) and made the creative decision if you’re going to be based on a smut novel, at least lean into the smuttiness. And while a Cinemax subscriber will be unimpressed, “Darker” does deliver some of the most eyebrow-raising sex scenes ever witnessed in a wide-release, studio film.
But, aside from being brought to you by the letters T, A, S, and M, does this movie have anything else of substance to offer? The short answer is, no.
The long answer is also no, but “Darker” does at least earn a few points for trying. If you squint, you can see an allegory for the anxieties that come with any new relationship. Be it dealing with exes both manipulative (Kim Basinger) and completely bonkers (Bella Heathcote), or coming to terms with the fact there are certain faults in your partner that will never go away no matter how much you want them to, the boundary-testing of a new love can be stressful.
Of course, none of this forgives the movie’s countless fatal flaws like the clunky dialogue, the improved, but still wooden chemistry between Dornan and Johnson, and truly laughable subplots, like the machinations of Anastasia’s predatory boss (Eric Johnson).
“Fifty Shades Darker” will still make a ton of money and nothing will stop us from being subjected to “Fifty Shades Freed,” the final film in the trilogy to be released in 2018. Ultimately, the success of the “Fifty Shades” series hinges on how well it capitalizes on the very human desire to occasionally pull back the curtain and be scandalized. The genius is how these movies give a wide audience permission to peep from the relative safety of their local cineplex.
In the end, these movies are harmless, as a little scandal now and then never hurt anybody — no matter how bad of a movie it is packaged in.
“Fifty Shades Darker” is rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.