Superficial. Unerotic. Cringe-worthy. The sequel to 50 Shades of Grey continues the affair between girl-next-door Anastasia Steele and chiselled-dominator-billionaire Christian Grey, and is about as sexy as a dead fish.
But how can that be? Jamie Dornan is one delicious piece of eye candy, and Dakota Johnson isn’t too bad either. Who would have guessed that just pressing two good-looking people up against each other wouldn’t do the trick? As it turns out, to created sexual tension you need foreplay, which in cinema means a decent script and direction. Two things 50 Shades Darker is sorely lacking.
Admittedly, the book didn’t offer the faithful scriptwriter a wealth of material to work with. Even so, the first 50 Shades, managed to surprise its audience with witty dialogue. 50 Shades Darker on the other hand has the wit of a spoiled 8-year-old.
Not only does the film completely dispense with good dialogue, it does so with conflict too, undoubtedly to leave more time for the cringe-worthy sex scenes. The film already begins with Anna and Christian patching things up after a lukewarm conversation in which he promises to share his feelings. Within ten minutes, the previous film’s relationship-ending argument is forgotten. Of course, the most exasperating moment occurs when the helicopter Christian is piloting crashes. The audience experiences a full three minutes of suspense with a distressed Ana before an unscathed Christian walks into the room.
Equally unsatisfying is the character development. Anna experiences none whatsoever. In fact, she undoes her character development from 50 Shades of Grey when she takes Christian back. Christian does undergo some, but in a most unimpressive way. In the most dramatic scene of 50 Shades Darker, he lays himself (metaphorically) bare to Ana by letting her touch his chest. This is a big step for Christian, who developed a phobia of other people touching his torso from when he was abused as a child, and the viewers expect some internal struggle. But why give the character depth when you can wrap things up in a matter of seconds? While being touched is clearly and ironically an uncomfortable experience for him, Christian makes the decision to expose himself very quickly.
My biggest issue with the film however, is the patriarchal ideology it promotes. Ana gets every woman’s “fantasy” – a handsome billionaire who is madly in love with her, freakishly protective of her, and does everything for her. She might claim not to need or want these things, but the fact is that she gets them. Some argument can be made for the feminist subversion of the male gaze in 50 Shades Darker, but ultimately Ana’s body is as objectified as Christian’s. She is reduced to the “ideal” of a beautiful, thin, intelligent woman, who is not overtly submissive but nonetheless willing to make every compromise as long as it is phrased the right way.
In summary, 50 Shades Darker is a train wreck. Its script and direction are awful, and its acting is less than mediocre. Worst of all, it offers cheap voyeurism in exchange for reinforcing society’s capitalist and patriarchal power structures.
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