Let’s get the apparently obvious out of the way. This film is never going to win an Oscar; and it’ll probably end up getting a clean sweep of this year’s Razzie nominations, but so what. Not every good film has to have a great plot, or be composed of killer drama and actors who seem to bend the very screen to their will.
Fifty Shades Darker doesn’t have any of those three elements, and I’m not going to waste your time by pretending otherwise. The plot is a little contrived. Certain elements feel out of place as if there’s some other film trying to peak out from under this Mills and Boon tale for millennials, but so what? This isn’t the kind of film you watch because you want to watch a masterpiece; you watch it because you want to see a fairy tale with the odd, gratuitous lashing of BDSM and sex scenes that are as close to porn as you’ll ever see in a mainstream movie.
[…] searingly honest scenes that allow the characters to evolve beyond the stereotypes they were in the first film.
For Fifty Shades Darker is a fairy tale about two people getting to live happily ever after, complete with the wicked stepmother and the black knight, but in its own way this film is also a pretty fair allegory for real life. You see this is also the story of two people finding their love again after a rupture. At first they say they’ll take it slow, but after two seconds of gazing into each other’s eyes they’re all over each other. Which is true of any couple that’s had a break up and then decided to try and make it work again.
So we see Christian Grey learning that there’s more to a successful relationship than being a brooding Alpha male… and we see Ms Steele learning that maybe the red room isn’t forbidden fruit. As the film progresses, each of these characters begins to open up more to each other and to us, but still leaving that bit of mystery hanging over them.
Jamie Dornan in particular brings Grey alive in a way that moves the character beyond the sulking man-child he was…
That leads to some of this film’s best, and most searingly honest scenes that allow the characters to evolve beyond the stereotypes they were in the first film. Jamie Dornan in particular brings Grey alive in a way that moves the character beyond the sulking man-child he was in Fifty Shades of Grey. Instead we are treated to layers of complexity being woven into his character like a tapestry, or more like an Onion being put back together, and while the product of a broken home trope is something of a cliché, it doesn’t detract from the compulsive viewing on the screen.
Of course it wouldn’t be Fifty Shades without the BDSM, and this film will likely find itself just as derided amongst the kinky community as the first one did, but if so, it would be an undeserved fate. Where the first film focused too much on the master/slave aspect of BDSM, Fifty Shades Darker goes beyond that, showing something that is much more spontaneous, but also becoming a curious kind of poster child. Certainly the master/slave aspect is still on display, with the broken Leila showcasing it; the sense of belonging she gets when Grey tells her to kneel is all too evident (and will probably be a locus for criticism), but the bigger point here is Ana.
At first she seems to have won, teasing Grey by getting him Vanilla Ben and Jerry’s as she leads his raging beast around the mundane surround of a supermarket. ‘It’s your new favourite flavour’ she says, but in the end her own desires lead her back to the red room, and it’s not long before she’s accepting Grey’s offer of a spanking or trying out whichever of his sex toys happens to beguile her.
Want to read more by Gareth? Click Here to read his thoughts on Bridget Jones’s Baby
Which is why I think I like this film. Not because it dares to show a woman who enjoys being spanked or wearing a blindfold during sex (Secretary is far more of a pioneer than Fifty Shades ever will be in that direction), but because it shows a relationship where, for all the apparent differences of the two people involved, their love for each other is great enough that give and take feels less like compromise and more like discovery, as they realise they can move beyond the boundaries they set themselves.
That’s the kind of fairy tale we can all believe in, and one we should all want to believe in.
By Gareth Wood