Director: James Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Luke Grimes, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora

Fify Shades Darker? More like Fifty Shade More Boring. When we last saw Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Johnson) and Christian Grey (Dornan), they had broken up as Christian’s domineering ways were too much for Ana to handle. She’s only slightly moved on and is working for a publishing company. He desperately wants her back so he tries to win her over by buying her dozens of roses and several large photographs of her at a gallery showing. They meet for dinner where he wins her over, but only under her terms. There will be no rules, no punishments, and no secrets in the second attempt at their relationship. Ana and Christian take it easy but are finding that many outside forces are continually testing them. Ana’s boss (Johnson) at the publishing company is putting inappropriate moves on her jeopardizing the career she is trying to have. She also finds herself the target of two of Christian’s exes. One is a disturbed young girl (Heathcote) who has a suicidal past, and the other is Elena Lincoln (Basinger), a Mrs. Robinson type who happens to be a friend of Christian’s mom (Gay Harden). Just when Ana thinks she has seen a new shade of Christian, it becomes hard to trust him all over again.

By the time the first film, Fifty Shades of Grey, came out I had not gotten around to reading the infamous trilogy of books by EL James. I heard every descriptor ranging from how scandalous they were to others who mocked how horribly written they were despite their pop culture status. I went in the first movie with such low expectations that I came out pleasantly surprised. It was shot well and Dakota Johnson was not nearly as annoying as I was led to believe by the way Ana is written in the books. The downside was that I didn’t quite buy the chemistry between Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

Somehow we went from mediocre to worse with the sequel. To this date I have not read the books but I would assume it follows the source material closely as Niall Leonard, the husband of author EL James, wrote the script. The dialogue is horrible leaving the audience to audibly snicker along the way. It seems Leonard may have been too faithful to his wife’s text. She’s also one of the film’s main producers and wanted more control on the project after the release of the first film. It becomes apparent very early on that there is little to no plot to this movie. I still don’t understand the appeal with his character, as he’s quite empty and controlling. Why does Ana go for him in the first place? Is that more explained in the books? Johnson makes Ana far more appealing, strong, and independent to the point where I question why she even puts up with his crap.

The only thing that separates this movie and a bad Lifetime movie is the nudity. It relies mostly on the eye candy that the audience is looking for. They’re going in looking for a slightly salacious romp, which is what Fifty Shades is known for. This film pushes the boundaries far more than the first one. The sex scenes are a bit raunchier, but are still missing that gritty and raw feeling they should have due to the nature of the BDSM world. I am still baffled as to why Dornan consistently wears more clothes than Johnson. He’s often wearing his jeans or a shirt while in the throngs of the sex scenes while she is in the buff. Where’s the consistency to appeal to the target audience?

I kept waiting for something to propel the action of this movie outside of the sex scenes, but nothing happens leading to it being drawn out and extremely boring. Darker attempts to live up to it’s title by making it more of an erotic thriller than a straight up kinky story like the first one. The additions of the scary boss, suicidal young girl, and bitchy housewife are not nearly as pulsating as they could have been under better material or even a better director. James Foley takes over for Sam Taylor-Johnson, and his credits range from Glengarry Glen Ross to Fear and Who’s That Girl. These “tense” moments pop up so few and far between to the point where they basically are afterthoughts and a cheap attempt to wake the audience up from their impending nap.

I look at this cast, which includes Oscar winners Marcia Gay Harden and Kim Basinger, and I remember that they are all far better than this material. Basinger is severely under utilized here. I had hoped that with the second part in this trilogy that it would be bigger and better than the first as if it was going to reach new heights or end up in some cliffhanger. Instead we’re left with a lukewarm film where I continue to question what the appeal is to this material. I know that the conclusion, Fifty Shades Freed, will be released next Valentine’s Day with the same creative team intact. It can only go uphill, right?

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? There’s a problem when the theme song by Zayn/Taylor Swift is the best part of the movie.


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