Now I’ll admit right out of the gate that I’m not the target audience for the Fifty Shades series. Prior to finding out I’d be reviewing this film I hadn’t seen its predecessor, Fifty Shades of Grey, and I’ve never read any of the books. But, in order to judge this film fairly, I buckled in (would strapped myself in be a better term considering the topic at hand?) and watched the first film before entering Darker territory.
Okay, so, it’s clear that Fifty Shades – both of Grey and Darker – are made for women who want to see an adult romance/fantasy novel brought to life. I mean, the books by author E.L. James were admittedly Twilight fan fiction that she wrote a couple of chapters at a time with no real overarching plot in mind – which shows on the screen. Fifty Shades Darker is the second book in a trilogy, though James never planned out a trilogy, and when she decided to do one she basically divided the chapters she’d written into two books – of Grey and Darker at the best place she deemed fit.
Now these aren’t great movies, and they’re not overly engrossing…but at the same time, they’re not an abomination to cinema either if you look at them as no more than they’re trying to be. The film picks up some time after the first film ends, with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) starting a new job at a publishing firm, and still not talking to Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after their fight/breakup at the end of the last movie. Meanwhile, Christian is dealing with constant nightmares of his traumatic childhood.
Their separation doesn’t last long, as Christian asks Ana to give him a second chance, and that this time there’d be no rules or punishments. That he’d aim to give her the normal relationship she desires. Not surprisingly, she agrees fairly quickly. Now, there’s plenty to roll your eyes at when it comes to the story, such as Ana’s inability to follow her own wishes of taking a relationship slow (one minute she’s saying she wants to go slow this time around and the next she’s literally asking to be spanked and tied up) or her ridiculously meteoric rise within the publishing firm’s ranks; however, that’s what most adult romance novels are: pure fantasy taking place in a realistic setting.
And Fifty Shades Darker does that quite well. It takes itself just seriously enough to make you believe in some of the drama taking place, while also going completely off the charts with other scenarios that put most soap operas to shame. Now having just watched Fifty Shades of Grey, I can say that Darker is an improvement overall. Now that may be due to the fact that James said she had to find a place to split the story in two in order to make a trilogy, so while the first film kind of drudges on with sex, arguing, more sex, brief happiness, even more sex, unclear character development/direction and finally, stiff punishment spankings that cross the line and bring things to an abrupt halt, Fifty Shades Darker actually gets to see Christian truly strive to grow as a person in his attempt to actually build a life with Anastasia.
Of course, there’s lots of sex still to be had, as this is an adult novel come to life above all else, but the character work in between those many, many erotic moments are much stronger (which, I admit, isn’t saying much) than they were the first time out. There’s also more drama, as a few new threats enter the fray, such as Miss. Robinson (Kim Basinger), the woman who took advantage of Christian as a child, a mystery woman from Christian’s past, and a rather cliché “better have HR on speed dial” boss to Anastasia at her firm. These minor characters all add some b-story elements that actually help create a world of drama outside of the bedroom for our lead characters – something the first film was notably missing.
Johnson does good work again here as Anastasia, bringing the innocence to the character that’s needed to make the viewer believe she’s a fish out of water when it comes to this world. The character of Ana can be baffling at times with what she’s willing and not willing to put up with, but as a whole, Johnson helps keep the character tolerable instead of infuriating with her back and forth nature.
Dornan steps up his game considerably this time out, as he’s also given a lot more to work with character wise. In the first film he was sort of the antagonist as well as the love interest, but here he gets to focus on simply being the latter, and even a hero of sorts on some level. Without having read the books or knowing where the movie may be going, I found myself hoping that Christian could defeat his demons and find happiness, which is a nod to the work of Dornan, screenwriter Niall Leonard and director James Foley, as they kept me guessing throughout if Christian would follow through with his promise to Ana, or if he’d fall back to his old ways, defeated.
What can I say, it seems I’m a sucker for soap operas, and that’s what Fifty Shades Darker is, only with a bigger budget and zero censorship. Of course, that’s what most viewers expect going in, and so that’s how I’ll review it. Yes, the plot is still fairly thin and is often just used to get the leads in bed together, and there are still pacing issues and no real tension in places there should be, as well as plenty of facepalm worthy and completely over-the-top silly moments; but it’s also a big step up from Fifty Shades of Grey, mainly thanks to the work of Dornan and Christian’s growth as a character. Yes, if a live action adult romance fantasy novel is what you desire, Fifty Shades Darker will easily fill that hole in your life to your satisfaction.
The film is filled with a wide variety of scenes from dark, to bright and vibrant, and back down to gloomy, yet its never muddy or harsh to look at as the Blu-ray transfer is handled beautifully. The audio is also top notch, with the dialogue coming through clear, and the soundtrack blasting through at all the right moments. Both transfers receive top grades here.
On the special features side of things we’ve got enough to keep fans briefly interested, though nothing too in-depth.
A Tease of Fifty Shades Freed – Here’s a 30-second teaser to the third and final film in the series if you want to get a taste of what’s to come.
Deleted Scenes – A pair of deleted scenes that don’t even reach two minutes in length. Watch if you like, but they add nothing to the story.
Writing Darker – Here we get a roughly three minute featurette that sees screenwriter Leonard talking about adapting his wife’s book, and her thoughts on the process as well.
A Darker Direction – At just under five minutes, this featurette talks about bringing on director James Foley to take on the project. He talks about his thoughts on the books, where he wanted to take the movie, working with James, etc…
Dark Reunion – This feature reaches just under eight minutes in length and sees the cast and crew talking about returning for the sequel, their characters, their thoughts on the direction of the series and working relationships with one another.
New Threats – The longest feature at just under nine minutes in length focuses on the new threats brought in for the sequel.
The Masquerade – This is a making-of featurette that talks about the creation of one of the film’s more elaborate scenes.
Intimate with Darker – This feature is just over seven minutes in length goes into the making of the film’s sex scenes and their meanings within the film outside of simply being just sex scenes.
Universal Pictures Presents Fifty Shades Darker. Directed by: James Foley. Written by: Niall Leonard. Based on the novel by: E.L. James. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger. Running time: Theatrical Cut: 118 Minutes/Unrated Cut: 131 Minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: May 9, 2017.
Tags: Dakota Johnson, E.L. James, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades of Grey, James Foley, Jamie Dornan