Fifty Shades Darker (2017) – Film Review

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Director: James Foley
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson
Certificate: 18

by Roger Crow

Watching the first Fifty Shades of Grey movie was a unique experience – like being on a hen night with a screen-full of secretaries who are all eating a vindaloo. The communal experience of witnessing a young woman reporting on and then falling for a sadistic tycoon was like watching a well-tuned horror movie: you know bad things are going to happen; it’s just a case of where, when and how.

By the time that film was over, Anna Steele was so repulsed by damaged twenty something tycoon Christian Grey, she walked out on him. As top shelf supermarket chick-lit goes, ’50 Shades’ is, of course, a publishing sensation that proves you don’t need to be a great writer to shift books by the truck load. Just be able to take some Twilight fan fiction and re-tune it for an age of Victorian values.

As the first movie made $571m on a modest $40m budget, it was only a matter of time until the sequel was released. I’m not sure why it took two years. There’s few special effects, and most of the sets are interiors with a few rainy outdoors scenes in what is supposed to be Seattle but was probably Canada. They may as well have shot it in Leeds to achieve that authentic rain-lashed effect.

Emmerdale turns out around the same running time’s worth of entertainment every week with a better script on a tiny budget, but in the movie game it’s all about building expectation. Between the two movies, a podcast about hot-under-the-collar Belinda Blinked has won fans over, from Elijah Wood to Daisy Ridley. ’Rocky Flintstone’s’ jaw-dropping tomes about shenanigans in the pots and pans industry have made for hilarious listening.

That’s one reason I can’t take Fifty Shades Darker seriously this Saturday lunchtime with another screening-full of chatty, social media-updating viewers. There is a feeling the cast can’t either.

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“I’m the one who feels used”

Jamie Dornan was awkward in film one, but has settled into the Grey role here, though that may not be a good thing for any actor. However, as before, Dakota Johnson steals the show as Anastasia, the gorgeous, pouty, naive yet smart heroine who now works in a publishing company for a creepy boss. When he oversteps the mark (in a scene which I predict 20 minutes in advance), he gets the boot and Anna (showing a modicum of intelligence in a room full of clearly half awake literary VIPs) is promoted. (Supporting characters in the literary scenes have less depth than Sim City extras.)

That bit may be a nod to her mum Melanie Griffith’s movie Working Girl, in which ambitious big-haired eighties office worker Tess gets a shot at the big time by pitching a screamingly obvious radio advert pitch to her even more stupid colleagues. Fifty Shades Darker even features a carbon copy moment when Anna tells her new secretary not to get her a drink unless she’s making one for herself. I’m amazed Carly Simon’s WG theme ‘Let the River Run’ isn’t playing on the radio somewhere to underline the homage.

Dakota, rather aptly, ends up in a state… of undress in several scenes. But it’s Dornan’s topless office gym antics that leave her chewing her lip in a scene which looks like it’s lifted from a book on ’Adapting Steamy Novels for Dummies.’ I can’t remember if Anna wore glasses and her hair up for film one, just so she could take them off and shake her locks loose, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s that predictable.

There is a ‘sub’ plot about one of Grey’s unhinged, obsessed fans stalking him, and the only person that seems to see her is Anna. I wonder if she’s actually being stalked by the Predator, the damaged woman’s ability to vanish is so remarkable. Either that or Grey needs his eyes testing.

A gunshot halfway through generates the biggest shock of the movie. Some viewers are so stunned they don’t update their Facebook status for at least a few minutes, oblivious to the fact their phones are a massive distraction. As ever, staff are as bothered about glowing phones and discussions throughout the film as they are about the damaged screen which gives Anna a sort of digital acne in some scenes. No wonder I’m the one who feels used and exploited.

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“Stunningly obvious in places”

While parts of the movie feel like indie hit Secretary, by the third act it’s more like an episode of Dallas or Dynasty as a key protagonist is suddenly in a helicopter (“His chopper’s gone missing!” is pure Carry On). Within 10 minutes, the aircraft crashes; there’s much fretting, then said character turns up safe and well without a scratch. It’s like a truncated disaster movie for the ADHD generation.

As things wrap up with a clunkingly obvious finale, I marvel at fireworks which look like they were generated on a ZX81, and confess I enjoyed Fifty Shades Darker as much as the original. (Not falling asleep like Assassin’s Creed or Fantastic Beasts is a bonus).

While film one was written and directed by women, the sequel is helmed by James Foley (his first film since 2007 flop Perfect Stranger) and adapted by EL James’s other half, Niall Leonard. They don’t do a bad job given the Rocky Flintstone-style source material.

It’s stunningly obvious in places, with an Eyes Wide Shut-style masked ball, and is often eye-wateringly funny. Kim Basinger chews the scenery like a refugee from a Jackie Collins novel, and for no reason there’s a Chronicles of Riddick poster in one scene. I wonder if a troubled character has a thing for flop Vin Diesel movies.

There’s a likeable soundtrack, and an obligatory scene of Christian and Anna indulging in a form of luxury travel – glider in film one, yacht in film two. Fur-lined, gold-plated hovercraft for film three perhaps? Oh, and Rita Ora gets slightly more screen time in this one after her cameo in Fifty Shades of Grey.

I may have a while to wait for Belinda Blinked the movie, but a third ’50 Shades’ movie, apparently due in 2018, is not such a terrible prospect. Hopefully, by then, all phones will be 50 shades darker during every movie screening.


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