Fifty Shades Darker sands off the sharp edges that made its predecessor an interesting – if not precisely good – film. Gone is the extratextual tension between director and author; in its place we get a film devoted to venerating every bit of James’ dreadful dialogue and undercooked dramatics. The legitimately sexy love scenes of Fifty Shades of Grey – crafted with care and CGI pubic hair – are traded for perfunctory foreplay scored with overwrought pop tunes. (But, hey, I’m sure that’ll help them sell more singles.)
I’d synopsise the plot here but there’s not much to speak of. Despite the trailers suggesting a swing towards thriller, all the stuff that should make for juicy melodrama – Kim Basinger’s “Mrs Robinson”, a jilted, psychotic ex (Bella Heathcoate), helicopter malfunctions – instead plays as inadvertent camp.
Thankfully the two lead actors ensure the film isn’t a total bust. Johnson is excellent as always, embodying the contradictions of an “independent” woman who definitely isn’t, but Dornan steps up his game here too. No longer the imperious, too-cool-for-school/sex-movie vibe; now his mix of possessive insecurity and goofy charm plays like a child in a (muscular) man’s body, which neatly aligns with the film’s reductive psychology. Still, a mess.