Director: James Foley
Screenplay: Niall Leonard
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden
Runtime: 113 Minutes
Has anyone really thought about Fifty Shades of Grey its release back in 2015? The answer should resoundingly be no. For all the fuss made about the feature film adaptation of the trashy erotica novel by E. L. James, there has been little to no impact left behind on the cultural spectrum following its commercial success and rampant critical bashing.
But the least that could be said about it was that director Sam Taylor-Johnson and writer Kelly Marcel were trying to get something out of the compromised and nigh unworkable source material with hints of levity and dramatic poise – it largely failed, but at least it tried.
Fifty Shades Darker, brought to us by the otherwise competent thriller director James Foley, doesn’t even appear to have tried to flex the boundaries of the already stretched material of its basis from a directorial standpoint. This is a rigidly staged point-and-shoot drama lacking so much energy that it’s difficult to keep any strong focus on the screen as the awful, pitiful dialogue and narrative beats play out.
Shot back-to-back with next year’s now expected Fifty Shades Freed trilogy capper, Foley seems to have nodded off at the wheel as the actors perform aimlessly and with only the slightest vein of emotion to respond with as the dramatic conflicts of absolutely nothing occur in a by-the-numbers fashion, that still feels disjointed thanks to its erratic pacing and editing issues. The sex scenes seem ever fewer in number than before and even less memorable than the tepid softcore segments of the first film.
The utter lack of chemistry between leads leaves the apparent romance a hollow void, with Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey coming off as even more despicable and controlling, and Dakota Johnson (the single shred of absolute joy in that first film) stumbling through scenes with dulled expression and reaction. Nobody comes out particularly well from the supporting cast either. Newcomer Eric Johnson as a romantic rival is terribly one-note, the otherwise enjoyable Marcia Gay Harden is wasted once again, and Kim Basinger picks up the check in a role she might be otherwise perfectly suited for had the screenplay given her anything remotely interesting to do.
The screenplay is the core problem, penned by Niall Leonard, who interestingly is also the husband of author E. L. James. James seems to have had near total creative control over the input of the screenplay as to stick more faithfully to her trite and derivative text. No artistic liberty has been allowed or given on a visual or narrative level in the pursuit of sticking to her conservative vision regardless of quality.
Fifty Shades Darker is a boring, eventless and forgettable slog that’s even worse than its predecessor, but only by not trying nearly as hard to overcome the difficulties of the wooden and droning material. There’s no vision or creativity on show beyond delivering a product that will make its money back based solely on an already committed audience demographic and the recognition of a title, ending on a similarly serialised final note to lure back whoever is left in the audience for the final instalment.