Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
I'm sure everyone who made and acted in Fifty Shades Darker are wonderful people, but they have teamed up to make a stomach-turning excuse, not only of a romance movie, but of the BDSM community as a whole.
Even worse than its mediocre, directionless predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker is an offensive glorification of abusive relationships as it cheapens kinky sex with the same bland treatment as it did in the past. The incongruities of Anastasia and Christian's power dynamics come through in a more glaringly obvious way than they did before thanks to awful dialog and what appears to be a frustrating contempt for a community that already sees itself as ostracized from the mainstream.
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles as Anastasia and Christian, respectively, despite early reports confirming the two had on-set tension with one another and might depart in light of future sequels. The characters have gone their separate ways per Ana's wishes, but Christian is empty and devastated without her. No amount of money nor his unprecedented control as Seattle's youngest billionaire could replace the hole in his heart. As a result, he agrees to Ana's wishes of having a purely vanilla relationship that respects consent and boundaries.
Yet in just a few scenes after agreeing to such a relationship, Christian disrespects Ana by being invasive when it comes to the relationship she has with her boss (Eric Johnson) on top of depositing $24,000 in her bank-account after obtaining her financial information without her knowing. He's pushy and manipulative in the same way an abusive spouse is, reprimanding her for making her own decisions and pushing her into circumstances with which she's not comfortable.
Fifty Shades Darker
Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson
10 February 2017
Steve's Grade: D-
Isn't it bad enough that Christian is already such a seductive, looming presence that's accomplished in every way possible, well-kept, and developed at least by this film's poor standards for character development? Meanwhile, what is Anastasia? She's an empty vessel; a plain Jane that's taken advantage of by everyone in her life and eventually conned into a terrible relationship in which she cannot escape. There's even more than a twinge of discomfort during the film's couple of awkward, mishandled sex scenes that are tamer than what you find on Showtime after hours.
It's as if Universal recognized what a cop-out they pulled with Fifty Shades of Grey, editing the film so as not to receive an NC-17 rating, only to double-down and make a less erotic production this time around. The end result is grating and shameful.
Meanwhile, Christian is still haunted by Elena (Kim Basinger), the woman that took his innocence and made him adore submissive qualities in women (as if BDSM relationships are a negative and something to be ashamed of), and that's supposed to excuse his disturbing treatment of Anastasia. The two spend their time together attending an odd costume/mask party that looks like something out of The Purge minus the violence and trying to come to terms with the way their pasts, particularly Christian's, effects their relationship in the present.
Faithful readers know I'm not very critical when it comes to acting, but Fifty Shades Darker has some of the worst I've seen in quite a while, especially for a mainstream studio production. Two films in and Johnson and Dornan still have absolutely nothing when it comes to chemistry or a romantic aura, and while that's partially because of the awful screenplays they've been dealt, it's also evident that these roles require more than they can give. Dramatically, the two feel stilted and inert, especially when tasked to allow emotion to flow naturally into their characters. They feel stiff on a frequent basis, and when Johnson is resorted to saying lines like "you're not putting that in my butt" when faced with two golfball-sized brass vaginal beads, it's as if even the screenwriter (this time Niall Leonard, author EL James' husband) can't bother to take these characters nor their situations seriously.
So what you ultimately wind up having, as a result, is a dramatically flaccid and thoroughly offensive film that paints BDSM relationships in a shortchanged, negative light with a lovely aura of justified domestic abuse running through the entire thing as well. Fifty Shades Darker did indeed get darker and it appeared to get a whole lot dumber as well.