Unhinged exes, and helicopter crashes, and opulent parties and my, oh my! The follow-up to the Fifty Shades franchise throws everything it can possibly pack inside inside its oversized package as if it were an entire season of absurd of guilty pleasure television. Just when you think Fifty Shades Darker is winding down, another urgent development takes over like a catastrophe. Plausibility is out the window with one too many absurd subplots, even at the expense of a silly good time. Darker just isn’t the guilty pleasure entertainment you would hope for, only occasionally becoming a fun lobotomy of enjoyable nonsense.
Shouldn’t this at least be a lot more fun? Or even a little bit more sexually subversive? The sequel barely remembers to allow us to delight in the trash and excess of what should be a sexy escapade. Even its several sex scenes become repetitive without even being sexy on a surface level, barely even interesting with its kinky moments no matter how much Grey and Anatasia compromise their sexual boundaries.
While this entry doesn’t rise above its equally subpar original, it does lack the winks that infiltrated that first film’s subversion at the source material. Playing the less digestible plot elements (namely Christian Grey’s, you know, stalker tendencies), with a straight face makes this a romance with no spine or appeal. Director James Foley handles with far less point of view or general daring with these characters as he has handles the gasp-inducing work he has done on Netflix’s too-shocking-to-miss House of Cards.
It doesn’t help that star Jamie Dornan hasn’t improved in becoming a more watchable star in his empty portrayal of Grey’s creepy awkwardness. The biggest missed opportunity for the film is in many contradictions and revealed background, which Dornan delivers quite flat and uncompelling. Forget his looks – the lack of humanity puts a ceiling on how sexy his portrayal becomes. For lack of less of a double entendre, he’s both stiff and flacid at every turn despite having the most to work with of Darker’s (surprisingly vacant) ensemble.
However, Dakota Johnson remains quite the talent despite Anastasia’s unrealistic decisions, just like her solid work in the first film of the series. Though Dornan doesn’t have chemistry with her straightforward delivery, Johnson makes an interesting love interest as usual. Even the obvious dialogue she’s forced into is given a natural delivery, preventing moments that could otherwise result in major audience eyerolls. Her performance does more for believability than any other aspect of the film, and she’s perhaps one of our most undervalued young actresses.
Darker is difficult to not be tough on considering its complete lack of humor and rationality. The franchise begs for more guilty pleasure and only results in taking its lack of intelligence far too seriously. Consider it Fifty Shades Lamer instead.