There’s a scene towards the end of Fifty Shades Darker where we find ourselves in Christian Grey’s childhood bedroom. He is engaged in deep conversation with Anastasia Steele. Instead of giving anywhere near a damn about what they were discussing, I found myself distracted by the movie poster in his room: The Chronicles of Riddick starring Vin Diesel.
For the next couple of minutes, my mind wandered to the following questions: What made the set designers pick that 2000 sci-fi flick? What made them deduce that their lead character with a penchant for dominance and sadism would choose that film over any other? I thought about what age Christian would have been when it was released. 13 maybe? Here’s a guy, even as a youngster, that could have bought any movie poster, yet he chose The Chronicles of Riddick. Then I realized the fact that I was preoccupied with this minor piece of set decoration said a lot. I didn’t really care about anything else in that bedroom and anyone in it.
Fifty Shades Darker is the sequel to 2015’s smash hit Fifty Shades of Grey and continues the saga of that man with the Riddick poster (Jamie Dornan) and book editor Anastasia (Dakota Johnson). Their romance was originated in a series of wildly popular E.L. James novels. As I opined in my one star review of Grey, I tried my best to understand its mass appeal to viewers and readers, but just couldn’t get there. Yet here we are again. When we last left the lovers, they had broken up because Anastasia just couldn’t quite get there with Christian’s kinky preferences. It takes about ten minutes of screen time for her to inexplicably change her mind and they’re back at it.
Part two does bring some new dynamics and characters into the fold. Anastasia’s new boss (Eric Johnson) wants more than her editing services. Christian’s sexual mentor (Kim Basinger) keeps popping up, as does a former lover (Bella Heathcote) who’s still subservient to her former master. These subplots lead to jealousy on both ends. There’s also a bit of exploration of Christian’s troubled childhood. All of these items seem like wind up to whatever the inevitable third picture will bring. There’s no pay off.
Instead we get a whole lot of conversations between our two leads and two underwhelming actors playing them. More than anything, the Fifty Shades series rises and falls with the chemistry of Dornan and Johnson. Once again, its mostly non-existent. The franchise’s selling point is the sex scenes and even they’re nothing more than what you’d see on cable after dark.
That said, I’m awarding Fifty Shades Darker a whole half star more than Grey. Why? Good question. Johnson’s acting is probably a half star better. There is perhaps a half star’s worthy more plot developments than in the first. Or maybe the Riddick poster distraction put me in a better mood. Who knows? The more likely reasoning is I’ve become more numb to the pain this unfortunate series has inflicted on me.
*1/2 (out of four)