Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

A masked woman in a white dress, being held as if dancing by a man in a tuxedo.Covered in shades of shit

Director: James Foley
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Viktor Rasuk, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Max Martini, Bruce Altman

In spite of critical opinion, 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey was quite the financial success, which made it inevitable the two sequels would also be adapted. Unsurprisingly, director Sam Taylor-Johnson left the franchise, as reports detailed her clashes with the books writer, E.L. James. While Johnson wanted to elevate the films above the source materials notorious reputation, James wanted things to adhere close to the novels, right down to the infamous dialogue, which left the film feeling like a clash of visions. With James Foley serving as a replacement director, and the script being written by James' spouse, Niall Leonard, one gets the feel James' creative control has won out, and the film is worse for it.

After the events of the previous film, Christian (Jamie Dornan) realises he wants Ana (Dakota Johnson) back in his life. She agrees to rekindle things, on the condition that their relationship has no rules, and no punishments. As the couple get used to their new relationship, Christian's past comes back to haunt Ana.
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For a film which lives and dies on its central relationship, it's difficult to get invested in it, especially when neither of the talented lead actors are given much material to work with. When Ana accepts Christian back into her life, it doesn't feel like a genuine action made by a character, but a forced occurrence which only happens because script writer Niall Leonard wants to rush through these things.

Far from helping things are how much of a controlling figure Christian remains. He interferes in Ana's life where it's far from wanted, often commanding her like someone would their inferior, and even gives off downright stalkerish behaviour. When Anastasia declares "This isn't a relationship, it's ownership", the words rings entirely true. It's a moment one hopes she'd take the opportunity to run away and never look back, but the film disregards that. What's even worse is how the moment gets turned around, as it goes from addressing Christian's horrible behaviour, and makes him seem like the victim.

Considering the target audience, it's downright baffling how one-sided this series is in its depiction of eroticism. The camera is more than willing to linger on Dakota Johnson's naked figure, but it's seemingly a Herculean task to get Jamie Dornan any more than shirtless. But then, for a series which appears to be reigniting eroticism in cinema, the sexual scenes come off as toothless, and completely dull. One intimate moment is meant to sizzle and heat up the screen, but instead left me wondering about the freshly cut food they'd forgotten about. To be honest, one's likely to get more aroused from a colonoscopy video.

But it seems the filmmakers know they can't get through a 2 hour film on subpar sexual scenes, so include a number of attempts to deliver the tension. They're handled in horribly contrived ways, with Ana's new boss, and a former submissive of Christian's, both feeling like cartoonish additions. Then there's an eleventh hour try to tack on suspense, which lands with a thud, and is likely to leave one laughing at how it's utterly preposterous.

The addition of director James Foley has changed very little, as the film remains in the constricting grip of E.L James' creative control. Fifty Shades Darker is an utterly dull affair, romanticising a controlling relationship which gives the talented actors very little to work with, and proves less sexy than a striptease by Jabba The Hutt. A shame there's one more film to come, as this is one franchise the world could benefit from sharing the fate of the Divergent franchise.

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