Just when I thought I was through with this damned thing….
Fifty Shades Darker is this year’s sequel to the 2015 Fifty Shades of Grey. As with its source material, it’s pretty much more of the same. More neo-liberal wealth-porn, more lack of chemistry between the leads, more violations of Ana’s privacy and boundaries, more tepid, cliched sex.
As in the book, the movie juggles several subplots, diverting our attention from one to another to keep us from realizing that none of them particularly make sense. Ana’s dependence and weakness are projected onto the deranged stalker Leila, and Christian’s aggression and controlling nature are projected onto the sexually harassing and murder-attempting Jack. Their subplots are given a minimal amount of development and forgotten for long stretches of the film.
What’s different is that there’s actually less kink-per-minute than the first film. There’s a little vaginal balls play, a little bondage with a spreader bar, a little blindfolding, a spanking scene with a grand total of three spanks, and a nipple clamp on a finger. It’s all pretty weak sauce, and what is there is given no character exploration. Like all the other subplots, it’s lightly touched on and then ignored.
Another difference is that instead of a female director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, there’s a male director, James Foley, and it definitely shows. Whereas Taylor-Johnson put a lot of emphasis on Jamie Dornan’s body as a thing to be looked at, Foley puts far more emphasis on Dakota Johnson’s naked body and especially her breasts. There are only a couple of moments in which we are invited to take scopophilic pleasure in Dornan’s body, and in both the scene emphasizes his power, either financially or physical. Any hint of vulnerability is carefully avoided; a classic example of the “male gaze” being inserted into what was originally a female-oriented text.
As I’ve argued before, FSD has no coherent position on kink. It normalizes it somewhat by making a half-hearted gesture to include it within an extremely conventional heterosexual romance plot, yet it persists in linking Christian’s kinkiness with his childhood of abuse and neglect.
Also like FSOG, Darker is pretty much critic-proof. It will make money and that is ultimately all that matters. It’s comfortably within the limits of the MPAA’s R-rating, and doesn’t push the envelope in any way. It is product.