In the first of the the films based on the E.L. James trilogy, the virginal Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets young billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) while interviewing him for her college paper, strikes his intense interest and is subsequently pursued by him and swept up into his world of kink and BDSM. While waiting for her to sign an extremely detailed business contract to become (like many girls before her) his submissive, Christian breaks his own protocol and begins to engage with Ana without it. As their relationship deepens, both Ana and Christian begin to question whether or not they want or are able to give what the other needs or desires of them; for Ana, an open, honest, and real relationship; for Christian, submission. Seeing how far Christian’s desire/need for submission and control, as well as his enjoyment of punishment, can go, Anastasia decides that she can’t be with him and leaves. This is where “Darker” picks up.
Some unstated time later, though obviously not very far in the future, Ana and Christian meet again as he, in a sweet stalker kind of way, attempts to get her to come back to him with the promise of a real, open, and honest “vanilla” relationship; no more rules, punishments, or contracts. While the first film never really strayed from the Ana and Christian thread with the push-and-pull, pursue-and-persuade, sexual build-up and BDSM, “Darker” expands the world of the film (outside the bedroom) as well as the characters and provides greater opportunity for development. We get to see more of Christian’s family and the people who have helped make him who he is. We’re also introduced to multiple new antagonists to Ana and Christian, presenting greater external conflict to their already internally unstable relationship. But instead of really delving into any of these conflicts, the film just skims through them. The external conflicts that seem to threaten our characters are treated more like occasional rest stops placed evenly throughout the film for points of increased drama without exploring the actual issues behind them. The internal conflicts are handled even less substantively, Ana and Christian’s push-and-pull relationship still teeters on the head of Christian’s possessiveness and inability to be completely open with Ana. And though he begins to reveal and attempt to overcome his obstacles to let her in and make her stay, it’s not done in a really believable way.
Christian’s entire growth and struggle with his inner demons- how he deals with and eventually overcomes them- are all left off screen. We never get the process, just the resulting actions; he’s all exposition without any buildup. We get vague and ambiguous pieces of his childhood trauma and the beginnings of the cycle of abuse that made him the perfect teenage target for the family friend that led him into this unhealthy and violent way of attempting to deal with his issues. But instead of delving in, answering this big questions, and exploring the impact and healing the film just diverts back to its unrealistic romantic love-conquers-all theme treating these momentary glimpses at what could have made good plot points as mere distractions.
Ana’s growth is similarly left off screen, we meet her again as a seemingly more confident, career focused woman who somehow, after her seemingly big decision and exit in the first film, decides it's the right decision for her to jump right back into a life with Christian without much time or thought. All rational thought seems to consistently leave her at his touch. She also seems to lack concern for the fact that all of the male relationships in her life (Christian, her friend Jose, and her boss) seem unhealthy, skating across the spectrum of stalking, obsession, and assault. The actors are talented, the location visuals are stunning, and the shooting is stylistically beautiful, but the script and direction (I assume echoing the source material) miss the mark. The characters and the film itself both suffer from a lack of depth, they demonstrate no true contemplation of their circumstances, experience no real reflections or substantive revelations, and skate over the most obvious opportunities and dire need for serious introspection. But if you’re not looking for any of that and are more interested in the romance, sex, and drama somewhat akin to that of a daytime soap opera, you’ll probably find “Fifty Shades Darker” entertaining, or at the very least get a few laughs out of it.
2.5 out of 5
What would I have changed? (Spoilers)
So much, but most importantly I’d go for further meaningful development of the characters, their inner (and outer) struggles, and growth, particularly Christian’s. It’s really disappointing how skimmed over his trauma is, especially when it’s still so obviously prevalent for him physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’d also visit some of Ana’s background, which, besides the very surface level of her parental relationships, is never really touched upon. I question why the need for individual or couple’s therapy was never even broached, maybe the third film will finally comment on that.
|Liz (Contributor) is an ardent cinephile from West Philadelphia. She enjoys all genres and generations of cinema and has a particular love for independent and foreign films|