Two years after the controversial release of “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015), it’s time for the sequel, which promises to be darker, sexier and with more thriller elements woven into the erotic plot. Not completely surprising, the film turns out to be none of those things. Based on the second installment of the trilogy by E.L. James, “Fifty Shades Darker” continues the controversial relationship of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), their erotic adventures and them momentarily dealing with whatever obstacle gets thrown at them (think former submissive stalker, sexually abusive boss and helicopter crash in mountain area).
Now, let me start this review by stating I have a perhaps unpopular opinion about the first installment, “Fifty Shades of Grey”. In fact, I think it is an unbelievably great achievement of director Taylor-Johnson and her team to turn one of the most critically trashed books ever into a beautiful, classy, stylish and, above all, qualitatively good film. Taylor-Johnson gave the film a clean look and clearly put thought into turning the original material into something more, without losing sight of the initial story-line. She presents us a story about to completely different people, their collision and, ultimately, their downfall. This difference is visualized in a very delicate and thoughtful way. In my opinion, this is what made the first installment a very interesting film and I was incredibly curious to see what would happen to the source material when the film production team completely changed.
Unfortunately, nothing good happened.
The visual style with which Taylor-Johnson and her team directed the first film has completely vanished and instead, current director James Foley and his team deliver a film without any original or noteworthy visual style. This is truly a shame, considering that Foley could have really added something to the directing of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, as he previously sat in the director’s chair of series such as “House of Cards” and “Hannibal”, two shows with a really signature and unique visual style. Thus, the directing is a missed opportunity. The costumes and set decoration, however, are very much on point. Especially during one of the key scenes in the film, the masked ball where Anastasia is confronted by Christian’s ex, this attention to detail for colors, fabrics and textures is especially prevalent.
Now let’s move on to another key element of the erotic franchise: the sex scenes. First of all, they’re not very sexy. As in, not sexy at all. The reason for this is the soundtrack, booming through the speakers, and completely and utterly clashing with the sexual subject on the big screen. The music does not fit the sensual atmosphere of the visuals at all, thereby completely ruining the mood. The disastrous combination of the music and the visuals even make the sex scenes laughable, with the audience laughing because of the silliness of top 40 music combined with ‘kinky’ sex scenes. However, when comparing the sex scenes from the first film to “Fifty Shades Darker”, one thing immediately becomes clear. Whereas in the first film the focus of the sex scenes were really clearly on the pleasure of the male participant, there’s now a very clear focus on female pleasure. In my opinion, the redirection in focus suits the film’s demographic of women much better.
Finally, let’s talk about the film’s plot and the two leads maneuvering through its holes, twists and crazy revelations. From the outset, “Fifty Shades Darker” has been coined as a continuation of the franchise, but then with the interesting twist of added thriller elements. This would enfold in the shape of a dangerous stalker, a sexually harassing boss, a jealous ex-dominant, a helicopter crash. All these elements to create obstacles for Anastasia and Christian to overcome – to add much-needed tension to the film – but the obstacles are resolved or overcome within the same or the immediately following scene. It’s such a shame, because these thriller elements could have been used in a really clever and valuable way, but instead they’re just used to push the plot forward.
Then the two lead actors, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Although Dornan appears much more comfortable and is thereby much more enjoyable to watch as the “fifty shades from fucked up” dominant, Johnson single-handedly carries this film. With humor and grace, the actress saves it from becoming a bland, humorless and often not very sexy 2 hours. Johnson has great comedic timing, she hits the sarcastic tones just right and she is the one reminding the audience to not take everything so seriously. “Fifty Shades Darker” is supposed to be a little silly, and despite everything, it’s still just a fun, sleek and entertaining flick.