Friday, February 17, 2017

"Fifty Shades Darker" Review: This Sequel is Fifty Shades Better Than You Have Been Led to Believe


It's difficult to say anything positive about the Fifty Shades franchise without sounding as if you are coming to its defense. Not since the Twilight series has there been a film franchise so wildly hated by the masses as this...and it doesn't even star Kristen Stewart! But truth be told (something I like to do every now and then) Fifty Shades Darker isn't a horrible film. Is it kind of silly? Is it sort of trashy? Is it a female wish fulfillment fantasy? Yes on all of those accounts but by no means does that make it bad. It just makes it something you like or don't like which is fine but there needs to be some perspective here people. Well, I guess I am sort of coming to its defense after all...sigh. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 55 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: February 10, 2017

Biases:  
Loves:  The slick looking production design
Likes: Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey (the film)
Neutral: Jamie Dornan, too much melodrama, some hokey dialogue
Hates: That the main selling point (the sex) doesn't push the boundaries as it promises 
25 Shades now 25 later?: Here's hoping the studio doesn't get cute and want to split the final book into 2 movies

Christian pleads his case to Anastasia

It's safe to say that if you liked Fifty Shades of Grey that chances are good you will like its sequel Fifty Shades Darker. It continues the story of kinky billionaire Christian Grey and his pursuit of the submissive partner that got away Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). After the last film we saw Anastasia leave Christian once he revealed his true nature in his torture room and as this film opens we discover that she has started to put her life back together again beginning with landing a job at a book publishing company as the assistant to the head publisher Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Christian of course is still obsessed with Anastasia and it doesn't take him long to come knocking at her door looking for anyway to win her back.

The tables have clearly turned and it is Anastasia who now holds the power of Christian as the only way she will agree to come back is if they renegotiate their contract the terms of which are that they must have a much more vanilla relationship this time around (ie less whips and more hips). Christian quickly agrees and no sooner than someone cracking a whip they are back in each others lives and back in bed even quicker. Despite Christian's willingness to give himself over to Anastasia's wishes he still has a lot of skeletons in his closet including a former submissive (Bella Heathcoate) who is just a tad bit psychotic, Elena (Kim Basinger) the woman who seduced him when he was younger and the mystery surrounding the death of his mother all of which comes to the forefront as Anastasia struggles to understand who Christian really is beyond his fascination with inflicting pain on women.

Christian and Anastasia have a mostly fairy tale romance...but with whips and chains.

Both Fifty Shades of Grey (henceforth known as FSG) and Fifty Shades Darker (henceforth known as FSD) have been sold as these extremely kinky tours through the sexual world of S&M. It must be said that if these films have one area that they fall short it is in the distinct lack of such kinky sexual acts. Yes there are indeed some unorthodox uses of objects on the female body (a couple of silver balls attached by string are tucked away for safe keeping if you know what I mean) but for the most part each and every sexual encounter between Christian and Anastasia is mostly routine. They are somewhat graphic for a feature film (although not enough to warrant the coveted NC-17 rating which most expected these films to strive for) but they don't really push the boundaries of anything we have seen in the past few decades (even the first films was a bit more graphic than this). Hell, Basic Instinct did this same stuff back in the 90's!

So it's easy to understand why some have attacked both films for under delivering in that area but honestly that is where the outright negatives end. There are of course conditional negatives that are highly dependent on your own perspective that can either make or break this entire franchise for you. FSD, more so than FSG for that matter, is what you would call a female wish fulfillment fantasy flick. What that means is that the main character of Anastasia is basically a cipher for the majority of the female audience whose actions very closely resemble the many cliches that women fantasize about. These being the idea of a man so severely obsessed with them that they are willing to do ANYTHING to be with them, a man who is broken mentally and physically to the point where she must fix him and finally the female character is someone who is so good natured that it is impossible to think ill of them in any way shape or form.

There is indeed a lot of sex but most of it is fairly tame.

The character of Anastasia is the embodiment of all those elements. In FSD she is confronted with a Christian who has literal scars from his past that symbolize how broken he is and has an actual moment where he gives himself over to her fully to prove how much he needs her to fix him. Probably the biggest part of this puzzle though is in the casting for Anastasia with Dakota Johnson. She herself exudes that simple girl looking for love vibe which makes the character even more relatable. She isn't super model gorgeous making it easy for other women to put themselves in her shoes but she also isn't Kristen Stewart from Twilight where you wonder what the hell anyone sees in her. If there is one area the filmmakers succeeded it is without a doubt the casting of Johnson in the lead role.

None of this is meant to be taken as a negative mind you (unless you are against such story telling tactics) but is important to note simply to understand what kind of audience it was tailored for. From what I understand the character of Anastasia in the books isn't all that appealing which even further enforces this observation. Johnson's portrayal of the character is single handedly the saving grace of this film franchise. Even if the dialogue can be a bit hokey and the plot elements a bit hit or miss (the whole subplot with Christian's helicopter was totally out of left field and served no other purpose than to give him a reason to profess his love) but there is something there between Anastasia and Christian despite a significant lack of chemistry most of the time when they are on screen together that feels right. They feel like two people who are meant to be together and that feeling, as difficult as it might be to understand, is what ultimately makes their story compelling.

Anastasia prepares for a roller coaster ride of a romance

FSD isn't a perfect film and as mentioned numerous times now has plenty of flaws to keep the critics frothing at the mouth but to outright hate the film simply because it isn't perfect is missing the point. This is more or less a big budget Hollywood production of a trashy romance novel, one that just so happens to look really good and features a very appealing lead character who despite being the product of the writer's manipulative tendencies towards their female audience still rings true for the most part with her actions and her motivations. There is apparently one or two more of these coming down the line and if you are on board at this point there is little left to say but if for some reason you have stayed away simply because hating on it is the popular thing to do then be brave and give it chance before you condemn it forever.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

FSD isn't going to win any awards for screenwriting, acting or directing but you know what, sometimes those things don't need to be perfect to still be entertaining. FSD is entertaining in its own way and thanks to the very appealing performance from Dakota Johnson and a very slick production style it is very easy to watch the film and just get lost in its fantasy world for a couple of hours. Are there better ways to spend you time? Perhaps, but by no means is it so ridiculously horrible that you need to bust out the pitchforks and torches at the doorsteps of the people who made it.

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