Director: James Foley
Screenplay: Niall Leonard
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Arielle Kebbel, Marcia Gay Harden
Runtime: 105 Minutes
It’s pretty conspicuous that Fifty Shades of Grey – the adaptation of the eponymous erotic romance novel – left as little cultural impact as it did when compared to the inflated media storm that surrounded it upon release.
The years have passed, the interest has waned, and now limping into cinemas is Fifty Shades Freed; the final instalment of E. L. James’ wretched series (shot at the same time as Fifty Shades Darker) that doesn’t have one interesting thing left to say about the core dynamic between the preposterously named Anastasia 'Ana' Steele-Grey (Dakota Johnson) and boring billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).
The core issue with Darker was that it felt like a film entirely without incident, and that which did occur was so mind-bogglingly dumb or forgettable that it left no lasting impact. The least that can be said of Freed is that stuff does happen, but in an even more bewildering fashion as characters change personality on a dime, threats emerge than recede without warning, and an entire detour into an Aspen holiday with friends takes up a large section of the second act and serves only to allow two side characters we don’t care about to become engaged.
The loose plot threads from Darker are left dangling for the film to grapple onto any sense of narrative to work with. For some reason between films antagonist Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) has suddenly become a hacker, arsonist, master of disguise and able to sabotage of helicopters, and yet we still don’t get what his obsession even is with the couple. That is until the final five minutes rolls around and some of the remaining mysteries are solved by characters opening letters to find brand new information and direction.
Oddly enough, the one thing that was supposed to be the main attraction to the book series has been glossed over and tempered in the film series to the level of barely titillating soft-core pornography, where semi-nude bodies writhe around in a decidedly non-explicit fashion of framing and lighting while pop music plays loudly over them.
The music choices are particularly conspicuous in this series, heavily marketed and produced pop tracks from named artists sold as companion albums and chart-topping hits to accompany the release. Blaring over every montage and erotic sequence to the point where it’s hard to take any of what’s happening on screen seriously.
This commercialisation extends itself to the film’s primary visual and elemental focus, because for all the blustering on about how emotionally invested in each other Ana and Christian are, all the film is ever focused on visually outside of tedious longing glances is the highly consumerist lifestyle that they lead – at one point there’s a chase involving an Audi car that’s edited and shot in such a way that you’d almost expect the logo and dealership details to fade into the frame as it rolls to a stop.
The endless holiday montages from around the world, their extravagant living spaces and vehicles and clothes are all the camera desires, pushing the entire BDSM aspect of the narrative further into the background than ever before. The supposed thrill of this aspect is of significantly less interest now that the couple are happily married, and the dynamic of the dominant/submissive relationship that gave the original film its one good contract drawing scene is relegated to lip service. Instead, the balance of power is clumsily dealt out in wordplay, like Ana telling off an architect for flirting with her husband, which Grey seems to find so arousing he actually allows her to drive his car!
Unlike the original, the films can’t even try to pretend to have fun with its creepy and absurd premise anymore and neither can the actors. Poor Johnson, who was the solitary ray of sunshine in the first film, looks so bored by this point and won’t even trying to make chemistry with Dornan, who can’t even hold onto his accent during scenes as he sustains the dark and mysterious demeanour of someone who we actually already know everything about.
For all of this, the systemic flaws of basing a multimillion-dollar series of productions around a glorified fan-fiction of the Twilight saga finally consumes the entire enterprise. Not just in regard to characters but structurally and visually, as Ana and Christian walk through a similar looking field of bluebells and a montage pays out of their ‘best bits’ from the previous films. The characters having learned absolutely nothing and grown very little in the time since their relationship began beyond a minor warble in the power structure of Grey's twisted little world.
Fifty Shades Freed isn’t sexy, thrilling or even engaging. What it is is ridged, vapid compliance, bowing to the whims of an author with too much sway over the production, an unadventurous director, an appalling screenplay and two lead performers who must be so glad to finally have this whole ordeal behind them.