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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 14, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker Movie Review: Not Darker But Emptier As We Don't Really Care For Its Lead Characters

WE HONESTLY don’t know what the title “Fifty Shades Darker” means, when this sequel to the worldwide hit “Fifty Shades of Grey” in 2015, is not at all darker than the first one, which was directed by Sam Taylor Johnson (the much older wife of actor Aaron Taylor Johnson who won as best supporting actor in the Golden Globes for “Nocturnal Animals” but was just totally ignored in the Oscars.)

The sequel has a new director, James Foley (“A Perfect Stranger”), and a new screenwriter, Niall Leonard (the husband of E.L. James, who authored the hit series of novels on which the movies are based), and we’re afraid the changes they made are not necessarily a good thing. But we have no doubt the new movie will still make oodles of money at the box office with its pre-sold audiences.

The first movie ended with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) breaking up with Seattle’s uber rich tycoon, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan.) The sequel starts with Ana no longer a shy and innocent English major but now working as personal assistant to a book editor in a publishing house, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who has the hots for her. Christian buys all her photographs in a gallery exhibition by her friend, then later shows up, with his bodyguards in a fleet of expensive Audis, to tell her he wants her back.

This time, he will impose no rules, will have no secrets and it will all be under Ana’s conditions.
 Obviously still in love with him, Ana agrees (otherwise, there’ll be no Part 2), hoping they’ll cultivate what she calls a vanilla relationship. There’s a hint as to what caused Christian’s sexual deviance: a tormented childhood and a drug-addicted mom who killed herself. This time, he also allows Ana to touch his body, but only in designated areas that he marks on his torso with lipstick. Isn’t that so generous of him?

What Ana doesn’t know is that new villains are being introduced to make their love story, which has honestly lost its steam for us, seem more interesting. In a masquerade ball at the house of Christian’s parents, Ana is confronted by villain number 1, Christian’s former lover, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), a much older woman who seduced Christian when he was only 15 years old and initiated him to the world of sado-masochism and bondage in bed. Elena obviously has not let go of Christian and when she realizes that he’s serious with Ana, she warns Ana to distance herself away from him but she fights back.

Villain no. 2 is Jack Hyde, who becomes more forward with Ana and asks her to join him to a trip in New York. When she rejects his sexual advances, he tries to molest her but she fights back. Jack pulls strings to have Jack fired from his job and he is replaced as editor by Ana herself.

Villain no. 3 is a mysterious disturbed woman, Leila (Bella Heathcote), one of Christian former submissive lovers who becomes so obsessed with him. She stalks Ana and later confronts her in her apartment with violent intentions. Christian arrives in time to rescue her and Ana sees Christian’s controlling hold on Leila in their dominant-submissive relationship. This frightens her and fearing he might lose her again, Christian proposes marriage to Ana but she says she’ll need time to think it over.

Before his 28th birthday, Christian flies his own helicopter on a trip to Seattle but it has engine trouble and he goes missing. His whole family is worried but he shows up, miraculously unscathed even after his chopper crashed, just in time for his birthday party. And for his formal proposal to Ana and his official announcement to all the guests that they’re engaged. Elena, who is convinced she’s Christian true love, is not pleased by this and confronts Ana, who is defended by Christian and his mom, Grace (Marcia Grace Harden).

Then, before the final fade out, Jack Hyde is shown lurking in the dark. Viewers make a mistake of leaving the theatre right away once the end credits are shown. But after the credits, we see the trailer of Part 3, slated for a Valentine release next year, showing the wedding of Ana and Christian. And Part 2 is really all a setup as we now know that in Part 3, titled “Fifty Shades Freed”, the soap opera villains who’ll make life difficult for the lovers are Elena and Jack, who’ll both be out for revenge.

But of course, lovers of kinky sex will still be given their much deserved dose of pleasure and pain inside the Red Room of torture and ecstasy. Some work, some don’t, but the most alarming thing is once again the lack of truly combustible chemistry between the two leads. In all fairness to Johnson, who gets to show her boobs and butt all the time as she is shown taking off her panties several times, she now knows better how to register orgasm when exotic ben wa balls are inserted inside her privates and when the buff but humorless Christian daringly gropes her pussy inside an elevator full of other people.

The production design remains opulent, from the cavernous penthouse apartment and family mansion to the masquerade ball, Christian’s extravagant sailboat and Ana’s fab clothes (one designed by Monique Lhuillier) and wonderful collection of sexy panties. And the soundtrack has so many songs from well known names starting with Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ at the film’s start to tunes by Jackson 5, Rita Ora and Sia, including the theme song rendered by Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik’s “I Don’t Want to Live Forever”. But after all these sassy ingredients, it still all feels empty, with us not really caring for the characters. As Ana says at one point: “You distract me with your kinky fuckery.” To which we cannot help but agree.