Once again, Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson unite on-screen for the sequel to one of 2015’s most anticipated movies. The Fifty Shades of Grey series by E.L. James captured millions with its steamy sex scenes and enticing Mr. Grey, quickly becoming one of literature’s all-time best sellers. The erotic novels have become a guilty pleasure of many; however, translating from page to screen has shown to lose some of its appeal.
In this follow-up, Fifty Shades Darker, Christian Grey (Dornan) delves more into his dark past, adding a different dimension to his character, one that is not looked upon with scepticism as we see a glimpse into his abusive childhood. In this new light, Grey becomes a more sympathetic character, one that becomes somewhat more relatable instead of an uncertain taboo. However, his relationship with Anastasia Steele (Johnson) becomes unrealistic – and at times comedic – as she almost instantly brushes off his self-confessed sadism.
Poor judgment from director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard portrays Steele as less invested in the relationship itself, seeing it as an opportunity for what it can offer her – an accusation made within the movie itself. Although this is not the intention of either writers, book or screenplay, her passiveness is grossly understated, making her a far from relatable protagonist, but also a pitiful one. The plot therefore seems to revolve around Steele and Grey overcoming these differences and making their way to the bedroom without resolving their apparent issues.
Anastasia is weak and mousy. While that defines her as a perfect candidate for a submissive relationship, she is lost within the confines of sex. Thus, the audience cannot find any source of appeal or interest in the woman apart from her choice of partner.
Johnson assumes the role perfectly in this adaptation, and she translates the character well from E.L. James’s text; however, the actress lacks the intensity to play a character faced with challenging and sometimes disturbing situations. This is both a flaw in the original source material and the film’s direction: a female lead with a more dominating presence is needed for the relationship between Christian and Anastasia, as she appears to constantly compromise herself for her man.
While the enticement of the movie stems from a dominant/submissive partnership, Anastasia, at times, becomes too willing to give into Christian when she has the capability for more control. The fundamentals of her individuality are heavily present, shown through her passion for work, but the constant interference from her lover always spurs her to stray from her independence. She should only be submissive in the bedroom, not in her life.
Despite this, thankfully the sequel injects some much-needed emotion into their romance, which allows the plot to be directed elsewhere other than the next impending sex scene. This is also more enjoyable for the audience, who feels more of a personal connection between the couple instead of just watching some distant, moody duo.
The whole movie has a lessened focus on sexual domination; this time, Anastasia is more in control of what happens to her body. With that said, the manner in which Christian constantly tries to dominate her lifestyle is disturbing and archaic. The series provides an insight into what may be an elusive and intriguing world of whips, chains and ties, but it also verges on dehumanising in certain aspects. Christian’s instructions to his former sexual partner, Leila (Bella Heathcote), to kneel, and her subsequent obedience, resembles the treatment towards an animal, certainly not a roleplaying façade intended for pleasure. The movie strays too far from portraying a dominant in a healthy manner, as the subordination of women infiltrates modern media and can be interpreted offensively. Overall, however, viewers get an eyeful of some mostly tasteful sex scenes with the expected “red room” controversy the audience awaits.
Besides the erotica, Fifty Shades Darker tries to incorporate many abrupt storylines that all add an absurdity and randomness to the whole story. Challenges that are supposed to test the couple are gone almost as soon as they appear and therefore have no apparent function within the storyline. The gaps in between Anastasia’s and Christian’s romance seem more like buffer scenes, only there to prevent two hours being filled with sweating bodies.
While the plot is erratic and at times comical with its overreaching aims, the ultimate goal of Fifty Shades Darker is to entice its audience with exciting sex, thus making the realistic nature of the plot line an afterthought.