'Fifty Shades Darker' Review: Charmless raunch and suffering

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) isn’t exactly what anybody will call a good film. 

It is, however, a somewhat interesting product, a Hollywood attempt at making something profound out of a piece of fiction that profits a longing for possibly romantic rich men with dangerous fetishes. 

Fifty shades of blue

What separates Fifty Shades of Grey from the rest is that Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a coy literature major turned sexual creature, all for the loveless enjoyment of her mysterious employer Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). 

Through a series of negotiations and contract signings, the two form a relationship built on terms and conditions that pushes Anastasia to the limits. That film ended on a note of female empowerment, with the lady walking out on an unfair arrangement, leaving her lover cum tormentor with a heart full of longing and balls that are fifty shades of blue. 

Taylor-Johnson’s film is a drowsy romance, and an even drowsier piece of erotica. Even with all its obvious warts, the film enunciates that fantasy of love, ultimately carving men out of beasts. It roots for a woman who grows out of her shell through a domineering man, only to abandon him at the last minute. It is tepid cinema, but it isn’t entirely useless.

Emasculation of Grey

James Foley, whose more prominent works include At Close Range (1987), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and Confidence (2003), inherits the franchise from Taylor-Johnson just when the plot withdraws from the points that make it unique.

Fifty Shades Darker continues with Anastasia and Christian’s romance right where the first film ended, with the girl finally getting a job at a local publishing house, away from her wealthy ex who repeatedly tries to woo her back with flowers. The tables have turned. Anastasia has Christian cornered, and Christian, despite his tiring sheen of stoic cool, is sufficiently emasculated.  

As the title suggests, the film navigates itself towards supposedly darker territories.

 

It quickly does away from the previous film’s infatuation with the erratic dynamics between its deal-making would-be lovers to concentrate on bizarre love triangles and other filth that now serve as hindrances to their romance. In other words, Fifty Shades Darker has gotten rid of everything that made Fifty Shades of Grey worth pondering.

Sure, it’s glossier and maybe sleazier than other similar soap operas, but it is also exponentially wasteful, abandoning the sexual politics that the first film relied on for bland thrills and charmless raunch. 

Hackneyed schmaltz

Foley doesn’t stray far from formula. He recruits the same hackneyed schmaltz that Taylor-Johnson showers Fifty Shades of Grey with. 

The film still equates gross display of affluence with fervent adoration. It makes sure that the film’s most memorable moments are the ones where the characters are luxuriously flirting while sailing on private boats that only a small portion of the world’s population can afford. The sex scenes are still accompanied by pop songs that drain whatever fake sensuality Anastasia and Christian’s constantly bare flesh can muster. 

When the film isn’t peddling those romantic fantasies, it gracelessly plods its story forward, maneuvering itself through conflicts that feel more like diversions from all the empty sex and materialism than anything else. 

Fifty Shades Darker ends with another cliffhanger. There’s more suffering to come, to be enjoyed by the film’s audience, who seem to be more subservient and masochistic than guileless Anastasia Steele. – Rappler.com

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.