Lazy, irksome and utterly, entirely vapid, the latest instalment in the Fifty Shades trilogy bathes the original in rose-coloured light.
Jacob Richardson | 08/02/2018
Fifty Shades Freed
Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) are married. Alas, their honeymoon is cut short by Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s former boss turned stalker of the newly minted couple. As Jack hunts down the pair, Ana and Christian have to come to terms with their own parental conflicts as Ana discovers she is pregnant.
There’s something unbelievably vain about the latest Fifty Shades film. Maybe it’s the endless product placement, the constant gratification of our heroine in everything she wants or desires. Whereas the first film had her come to terms with the fact that she could have anything she wanted, so long as she explored the grimy, shady world of BDSM that Christian insisted on (and played off this sophie’s choice with medium success), nowadays, as the official Mrs Grey, she has everything she wants with no trade-off.
Or maybe it’s such an exercise in vanity given it’s length - after all, even at 105 minutes this film has to stretch for time, including a ridiculous montage of previous scenes like they didn’t pump these out with the rapid pace of Ana’s Audi. Even aside from the montage inclusions, the story is stretched wafer thin.
That’s probably because director James Foley insists on following this tiny kidnapping plot, as Jack Hyde menaces the picture in the same way a fly menaces a wall. Foley gives us a rapid, unbelievable car chase, an uninspired and insipid kidnapping scene, and a finale that makes absolutely zero sense, all in service of trying to give this a rote action thriller vibe. But that’s not what this needs, because under all the layers of glitz and glamour, of thrilling chases and office banter, there’s actually plenty of relationship based, human drama here.
The problem is, Foley (and, to be fair, the source material) insists on setting Christian up as this charming playboy; the perfect man. And that’s fine for the first film, and somewhat OK for the second. But here, we are dealing with a married couple. We don’t need to see Christian whisk Ana off on a holiday at a moment’s notice. We don’t need him to suddenly be able to play piano and sing to up his hunk factor (a moment the entire audience at the screening we attended burst into laughter at).
How intriguing it would be to see someone like Paul Thomas Anderson take on Fifty Shades Freed. What subtle exploration of the combative culture of a defiant submissive and a dominant with her undoubted best interests at heart would we have seen? What intense excavation of the emotional toll Christian’s repulsive behaviour when Ana announces she is pregnant would we have been privy to? How curious would the review of Ana’s lingering feelings of fear in her own house, following her attempted abduction, have been?
Alas, instead we are given this story through the direction of Foley, who strings a series of scenes and moments together in a way that never really makes a story; who focuses on close ups of glitz and glamour, rather than on the thing that brought these two together in the first place. That’s probably the most egregious sin of this piece, because in amongst all the pointless family meet-ups and the uninspired stalker plot, we lose the very thing that made these films so intriguing as books. We lose the sex; the sex scenes we are treated to don’t have the wild thrill of the first instalment, nor the ‘ever closer to the boundary’ exploration of BDSM elements of the second. A final shot of Ana in the red room closes the film, as the couple seem about to explore a new scene together - and surprisingly, for a film series that has been critically panned from the off, it makes you miss the earlier movies. Because as much as Foley wants to ignore it with Fifty Shades Freed, the sex was the only thing this series ever had going for it.
Utterly uninspired, and a blight on the cinematic landscape, Fifty Shades Freed would be more at home airing during the halftime show at the Superbowl than in our cinemas. Avoid at all costs.