Fifty Shades Darker comes burdened with a misleading title — in part two, we find America’s favorite S&M couple getting along fine, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Blossoming wallflower Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) proves irresistible to billionaire flayboy Christian, who renounces sadism (the cause of their break-up in part one) and goes abruptly domestic. They go grocery shopping, cut vegetables together, and sail Puget Sound.
Would you like to take the helm? Christian asks.
Why, yes, she would. Having tamed this beast, Anastasia is now free to explore erotic fantasies on her own terms. This means they can once again visit the Red Room, where Christian keeps his implements of pleasure/pain, but she gets to set boundaries.
With a few exceptions. Christian has declared his highly developed chest muscles to be off limits during sex, much as Ron Burgundy dictated that during anchorman street brawls, there was to be “no touching of the hair or face.”
Christian’s proscriptions stem from childhood abuse, growing up in a home with a drug-addicted mother, whose picture he keeps in his boyhood room. Anastasia notices that she looks a lot like her, and later gets Christian to concede that he likes hurting women who look like his mom.
This should be her cue to run like hell, but Anastasia sees these confessions as proof of precedent-setting intimacy and Christian’s personal growth, so she persists, hoping for the magical day when she can touch his pecs. The “darker” aspects of this sequel refer to periodic appearances of a female stalker, one of Christian’s former “submissives,” who has gone round the bend.
There is also an older/other woman, played by Kim Basinger (who played the Dakota Johnson role in 1986's similarly themed 9 1/2 Weeks), who jealously warns Anastasia that she’s wasting her time trying to cure Christian of his sadistic impulses. Later, caught meddling again, she gets smacked, and not in an erotic way. The audience cheers. I haven’t felt this bad for an actress since Kathleen Turner had her leg humped by Marley in Marley & Me.
In the meantime, Anastasia acquires a stalker of her own. It is a fixture of the Fifty Shades movies that all who meet Christian and Anastasia are magnetically (sometimes obsessively) attracted to them. The problem for viewers, especially those who have not read the E.L. James novels, is that many of us do not share the attraction.
On screen, saddled with bad dialogue and soapy plotting, the characters remain stiff and … plastic. In fact, I kept thinking how awesome it would be if the trilogy would conclude with a Lego Shades Movie. Lego Christian pouring massage oils on Lego Anastasia, engaging in some light Lego masochism.
No such luck. Parts two and three of Shades were filmed together. The conclusion is already in the can.