Director: James Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
How much you will enjoy the second installment of the Fifty Shades franchise comes down to how often you want to see Dakota Johnson's nipples. If the answer is "not much", then you should probably steer clear. If the answer is "for two hours straight", then you're in luck. Fifty Shades Darker isn't darker at all really, and it's barely racy in the bondage/submission ways that caused so much stir when the books and films were released. Rather, it's a feature film full of Johnson's naked body and the same, repetitive sex scene with the same, repetitive pop song turned into Music To Do It By. I assume that everyone who goes to the theatre to see this film knows exactly what they're getting; read the book, saw the first movie, aren't going in with an open mind and a critical eye. So let's skip past the mincing of scenes and the study of characters, let's get right to the meat of the plot, which is Ana & Christian, their kinky sex, their weird relationship, and their ability to make us watch even when we know what we're watching isn't that great.
This summary and this review might be laden with spoilers for those who haven't seen the original film, which probably isn't you since you're reading this right now, but fair warning. Since Anastasia left Christian, life has lost a bit of its sparkle. She decided she couldn't be with a man who could enjoy physically punishing others, so after trying to change him into the lover she wanted him to be and failing, Ana gave up on Mr. Grey. Well, he won't be gone long. Immediately Christian attempts to win her back, promising to change forever, swearing that he doesn't want to be dominant, he just wants to be with the woman he loves. Ana quickly takes him back, and the two begin again to make this twisted relationship work. But this time, there are outside forces; a jealous Sub who can't let Grey go, an old flame who doesn't think that Ms. Steele is good enough, a sexually aggressive boss who won't take no for an answer, any of whom might destroy the fragile romance that our heroes have put all of their hope upon.
I actually liked Fifty Shades of Grey, which was a bit of a shocker; I hadn't read the books, went in with extremely low expectations, knew the content would be borderline, and was completely outside of my usual genre and taste level. The acting in this series isn't great, the action is repetitive, the writing isn't wonderful, but there are still positives to glean if you allow that this trashy style is a business all its own, that it won't fit into other categories, and that it can be entertaining despite its low ceiling. One big knock on the original was the abuse prevalent in the relationship, something that I just didn't agree with; Ana changes Christian, she's the one who experiments, she's the one who says no, she's the one who ultimately leaves. And that's not much of an issue here; this couple tries to make it work, they try to find common ground, there's less ownership and more an attempt to be a regular girlfriend/boyfriend pair.
Fifty Shades Darker is almost a let down in its lack of button-pushing, leaving the Red Room behind and focusing instead on the love between the main characters, how they might make it to a happy ending. There is still sex, as I noted, but this time it's a bit more romantic with a kinky edge, not overbearing with an orgasm at the end. And the plot is muted as well, in that, actually, not that much happens. There are elements thrown in to build toward a finale, but you might be disappointed if you wait two hours for an action-packed climax. Basically, the trailer makes the film seem more exciting than it is, and the only climaxes we see are Ana's. We see a lot of Dakota Johnson ('s boobs), we see some attempts at character development from Christian, and the melodrama vamps up with some overacting, resulting in a bit of a soap opera feel, but not one that will shock anybody who sat through the first. Inexplicably, and judging by my usual harsh critique of acting, these movies just don't draw my ire, don't bother me, and can be fun to watch. Maybe it's because of the naked people, maybe it's because I expect zero quality, or maybe they've just become a guilty pleasure. But whatever the reason, and although Fifty 2 is a bit of a step down from Fifty 1, I still find myself unable to warn others away from this smutty series.