REVIEW: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ delivers convoluted story and unconvincing sex

50 shades darker

50 shades darker

Michael Nied

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a questionable representation of BDSM?

The latest film adaptation of author E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades” saga “Fifty Shades Darker” picks up where the last left off, but this time the relationship between Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is even more dramatic, as if that was possible.

Johnson delivers an awkward performance in the lead role of Anastasia. Although her character is striving to establish her independence from Grey, it is difficult to consider her as a sole entity. Instead, viewers experience her through the lenses of her various relationships. Her character is reluctant to take on a starring role, making it difficult to understand or witness her individual character development.

As a result, Johnson is plagued by complaints similar to those that followed Kristen Stewart in her performance as Bella Swan in the “Twilight” series. It’s unclear whether it’s the actress or the role that’s one-dimensional and boring. Considering that James was allegedly inspired by the “Twilight” saga, the comparison between the two actresses isn’t overly surprising.

In contrast, Dornan has seemingly grown into the role of the emotionally-scarred sadist Grey. Although his casting was originally disapproved by fans who expected a flashier portrayal, Dornan appears more at ease in the controversial role this time around. He plays the tortured character with finesse, and scattered flashbacks to Grey’s youth provide some cryptic clues to his past.

Dornan’s performance is mirrored by an equally compelling effort from Eric Johnson in the role of Steele’s boss, Jack Hyde. The new character appears interested in kindling a fling with his new hire.

As the relationship between Grey and Steele rekindles, her relationship with her boss flounders before finally boiling over and culminating in an attempted rape in their office.

The assault happens in the first half of the film; however, it’s hinted that Hyde hasn’t made his final play for Steele. He remains as a brooding figure on the fringes of the film, hinting at a reappearance in the 2018 finale “Fifty Shades Freed.”

One of the largest problems that plagues “Fifty Shades Darker” is its pacing. Hyde’s storyline is one of many that drive the film in a variety of unexpected, often jarring directions.

“Fifty Shades Darker” bounces from stilted arguments between Grey and Steele, to the fallout between Steele and Hyde, to a series of encounters with a former submissive, to a twisted interaction between Steele and Grey’s BDSM teacher Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), to a helicopter crash and, of course, don’t forget all the sex that Steele and Grey are having between everything else that’s happening.

Obviously, with all the odds against them, Steele and Grey make sure to have a lot of quasi-kinky, barely believable sex throughout the film.

In the end, there simply isn’t enough time to adequately bring the various storylines to neat conclusions. There’s just so much going on that it becomes a psychological assault that leaves the film bursting with poorly-evolved characters and convoluted story lines.

Although far from perfect, “Fifty Shades Darker” manages to deliver some strong moments. Johnson and Dornan find their onscreen chemistry outside the bounds of the bedroom (or the infamous Red Room of Pain, shower, gym, elevator or any of the other places they have sex). It’s in the quieter moments they share with each another that they truly shine.

One such example comes early in the film when the pair decides to revisit their relationship. Johnson tosses Dornan a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in a joking reference to their now-vanilla relationship. The cheeky moment reveals that Johnson — and her character — are capable of more than stilted dialogue if given the opportunity.

Johnson and Dornan are at their strongest when they’re able to interact as a normal couple without the furor of murder mysteries or soapy drama. These few moments of peace between the various storylines inject some much needed tenderness.

While “Fifty Shades Darker” will undoubtedly titillate fans of James’ story, it’s unlikely to attract new fans. In fact, it’s almost impossible to follow along without having a familiarity with the subject material.

To paraphrase Rihanna, chains and whips may be exciting; however, they aren’t enough to combat convoluted plot and generic characters. “Fifty Shades Darker” delivers on all of the above, and the result is a little too much to handle.

Michael Nied is the entertainment reviewer, contact him at [email protected].