Review: 'Fifty Shades' sequel neither better nor darker

Fred Hawson

Posted at Feb 15 2017 11:50 AM | Updated as of Feb 15 2017 12:29 PM

"Fifty Shades of Grey" was a Valentine's Day feature two years ago. Like it was for the E.L. James books on which the film was based, critics hated the film. Anyhow, audiences curious about the erotic BDSM lifestyle the film portrayed made it a big box-office hit despite the harsh critical reception against it. I guess the baser instincts still held sway than intellect in this case.

"Fifty Shades Darker" picks up where the first film left off. Anastasia Steele is now working as an executive assistant of an editor at a publishing company. Within the first five minutes, a mere promise of no rules and no punishments was all it took for Christian Grey to convince Ana to allow him back into her life.

While Christian seems sincere in making their vanilla romance work, Ana still seems to long for the kinky stuff. When women from Christian's past like Elena Lincoln (his cougar seducer and abuser) and Leila Williams (his depressed and obsessed submissive) come into the scene, Ana has second thoughts about his capacity for a serious relationship.

The miscasting problem that hounded Jamie Dornan in the first film continues in this sequel. He never was really convincing as a overbearing and over-dominant Christian Grey. Dakota Johnson is a better actress but is saddled with the annoyingly indecisive way Ana was written in the script. At least, she is not shy to display her body.

It was good to see Kim Basinger on the big screen once again after a long absence from the mainstream since probably her Oscar for "L.A. Confidential" (1997). Too bad her role as the child molester Elena (whom Ana called Mrs. Robinson) was too short, but it was made pretty clear that we will be seeing more of Ms. Basinger in the upcoming sequel "Fifty Shades Freed."

Eric Johnson played the role of Ana's predator of a boss, Jack Hyde. We can see his intentions on his face from the very first scene we see him in. There was no subtlety at all in terms of his character development. After disappearing midway in the film, we do get a hint at the end that we will be seeing him again in the next film.

Well, at least the local board of censors were sensible enough to leave the sensitive sex scenes alone and intact this time. Gone were the black block nonsense that they slapped on the sex scenes of the first film to "protect" the supposedly adult viewing public. These sex scenes, admittedly, were the main draw of a film like this. However, they were pretty short, repetitive and oddly conventional.

As with the first film, the aspect I liked most was the musical soundtrack. The first film gave us songs like "Love Me Like You Do" by Elle Goulding and "Earned It" by The Weeknd. For this second film, songs like "I Don't Wanna Live Forever" (by Zayn Malick and Taylor Swift), "Not Afraid Anymore" by Halsey, "One Woman Man" (by John Legend) and "Helium" (by Sia) succeed in their purpose to heighten sensuality in the scenes.

Story-wise and acting-wise though, this installment by new director James Foley was nary an improvement over the first one by Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose visual style still pervades. Things did not become any better or darker. 4/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."