For any true fan of the books, the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades Darker is sheer nirvana. Much sexier than its prequel, there’s a noticeable change in the air as the second movie in the trilogy kicks off with a new director and screenwriter, adhering more to its original source, and taking fewer liberties with the characters and dialogues. We return to the Fifty Shades universe to find two actors much more at ease in their fictional skins, a stronger connection not only between them, but also to their respective alter egos, in a generally sprightlier and much racier adaptation of its literary counterpart. It might not be a cinematographic masterpiece by any means, but for a reader who has treasured this story for so long, and who has always perceived it for what it truly is—a fictional fantasy—this movie felt just right. I walked away craving to see it again, and for this movie buff, that says something.
The movie picks up the storyline three weeks after the events in Fifty Shades of Grey and the couple’s dramatic breakup at the end of it. We find a heartbroken and significantly more mellow Christian Grey willing to do whatever it takes to win Anastasia Steele back. And while Ana is far from being unaffected by their three-week hiatus, this time around, when she agrees to give their relationship a second chance, she does it by taking the reins between them and demanding a “no rules, no punishment and no more secrets” promise on Christian’s part.
However, as ghosts from Christian’s colourful past start popping up all around them and threaten to shatter every bit of trust between them, we watch the couple grow closer rather than apart, fighting their enemies together, and repeatedly proving to each other the extent of their commitment to one another.
There’s a visible improvement in Jamie Dornan’s level of comfort playing the role of the Dominant billionaire. He appears more relaxed and at ease with his character’s many “shades of f*cked up”—in and out of the bedroom—and that change is particularly visible in the delivery of his lines, all stiffness (no pun intended) long gone. I felt, however, that two of the most powerful, heart-stopping scenes in the entire trilogy and my two personal favourites—the ‘Christian as a submissive’ scene and the aftermath of the helicopter crash—felt rushed and incomplete, and to me, they entirely missed the mark. There was not enough emotional build-up before, during, or after either of them, inciting giggles from fellow audience members instead of the gasps of shock I had hoped to hear.
The leading lady, Dakota Johnson, is a joy to watch start to finish. Her quirky sense of humour shines through her every facial expression, but her talent truly shows during some of the movie’s more dramatic, angst-ridden moments. Within the confines of a role that did not allow for much melodramatic expression, she succeeded in making me tear up on at least one occasion I can remember.
Now, I would be remiss not to mention the blush-worthy sex scenes throughout the film, because their explicitness caught me totally by surprise, regardless of how much more graphic they are in the book. With one impressive spreader bar that steals the show and two oral sex scenes to boot, some of the most intimate moments between Ana and Christian are boldly brought to life with very little left to the imagination, and even making me squirm in my seat on occasion from the sheer amount of detail present. I will not lie, I did not hate them one bit.
The various secondary characters in the story remain nothing more than a colourful backdrop to the love story between the two leads, most of them utilised only to deliver bubbly one-liners, with the exception of the two villains in the story who might not feel as ‘threatening’ as they did throughout the book itself, but their very presence steadily pushes the plot forward. Eric Johnson plays a sleazy Jack Hyde with exuberance and confidence, even when his lines fail to portray him as the baddie he represents, and Kim Basinger delivers a picture-perfect Mrs. Robinson.
On a side note, the little tribute to Working Girl when Dakota speaks her mum’s iconic lines from that movie, saying, “I don’t expect you to fetch me coffee unless you’re getting some for yourself,” made me snort-giggle. My millennial movie companion completely missed the 1988 reference, but I caught it immediately and thought it to be a really nice touch.
Goes without saying that this one’s for the fans, folks, because I am not too sure that someone who has never read the books would enjoy this story as much as I have, or remain invested in the story as the die-hard fans undoubtedly will. The movie skips through all the crucial and most beloved moments in the book, never quite sinking its teeth into any of them but delivering them all, one by one, and any plot holes are quickly filled in our minds from our many re-reads of the books. I walked away smiling, having watched exactly what I had hoped to find, and having spent two hours of my time thoroughly entertained.