Fifty Shades Darker is not a comedy. Or at least I think it's not supposed to be funny. Regardless, I found myself chuckling throughout the entire film. It is borderline farcical. The sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey is marketed as an erotic, BDSM romance that continues the story of billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his infatuation with the demure Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). There's fetish sex a plenty with all kinds of gadgets, along with Harlequin novel intrigue. The problem is that these scenes play out in a comical fashion with terrible dialogue. Maybe the filmmakers were taking a cheeky approach, pun intended.

Fifty Shades Darker opens with Ana having left Christian after her experience in their last session. She can't be his submissive. Ana has taken a job as an assistant to a dashing fiction editor, Jack Hyde (Erik Johnson). Christian refuses to move on. He makes every attempt to lure her back. Ana gives him another chance. But as their love blooms, shadowy figures from Christian's BDSM past emerge to thwart them. Placing Ana and Christian in danger of bodily harm, outside the spanking and nipple clamps.

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I understand the allure of the Fifty Shades franchise. The normal, yet beautiful virginal girl is pursued by an impossibly handsome and wealthy suitor with a tantalizing dark side. Some view Ana as being abused by Christian, playing into the male sexual domination ethos. Others see Ana as a liberated woman choosing to engage in a lifestyle that fits her physical and emotional needs. I make no judgments on female empowerment or how this film fits in that discussion. Fifty Shades Darker stands on its own as a piece of art, in that sense, it is severely wanting.

The script by Niall Leonard is terrible. I've never read the E.L. James books, so I don't know how faithful of an adaptation it is. The characters have zero depth. They behave like cardboard cutouts spewing laughably bad dialogue. It's like watching an R-rated soap opera. Credit is due to Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson for getting through their lines in the buff. I couldn't imagine keeping a straight face spouting this nonsense while simulating bondage sex.

The editing decisions by Director James Foley adds to the silliness. The characters response in frame to several steamy situations is downright hilarious. Ana biting her lip with lust as Christian does pullups, with a hard cut close-up to his chiseled abs, is something you'd see in a zero budget porn film. The audience was rolling with laughter during this scene. I'm pretty sure this is not the reaction the filmmakers were hoping for. Foley needs to take a page on filming erotica from Korean director Park Chan Wook. There are similar scenes in his 2016 film, The Handmaiden, that make 50 Shades Darker look amateurish.

Now we get to the real thrust of the film, the sex. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are good looking people with great bodies. Their sex scenes are pretty much on par with the first film. She bears the brunt of the nudity and sex play. Those with sexual equivalency complaints probably have grounds to complain here. I thought the best scenes were building tension, Ana slowly getting dressed in a garter belt, Christian readying her for the Red Room. These pre-sex scenes worked because the leads have at least some chemistry. The act itself is not so interesting.

From Universal Pictures, Fifty Shades Darker is meant solely for the fan base. Millions of people have read the novels, so the sequel should do as well as the original. The most joy I got from watching this movie was laughing at it.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman