One of the magical aspects of all art is how we interpret it via our own personal tastes.
One man’s poison can be another man’s passion. We all have our own favourite music, paintings, sculptures, books and TV shows that may or may not sit on a par with that of even our closest companions.
When it comes to Film, (yes, with a capital F), it is a rare offering that crosses over into universal acceptance.
Around Valentine’s Day in 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey exploded at the box office, in spite of a complete lack of critical acclaim. It burned hot and bright for a few weeks before the flame flickered and all but extinguished. Two years on, the follow-up – Fifty Shades Darker – is poised to ignite the big screen once more.
But before we get to the second entry in the Fifty Shades film series, I needed to brush up on the origins and popularity of the book(s) from which the film series is based.
The 514 pages of Fifty Shades of Grey erupted onto the literary scene in 2011, initially online, before selling 70 million physical copies worldwide by the end of 2012, with the total sales of the three volumes now in excess of 125 million worldwide. With Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Free, it was clear that author E.L. James had struck a nerve.
Initially conceived as a piece of Twilight-inspired fan fiction, the story of the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey had captured the public’s imagination.
I think it is fair to say that it was not so much the romantic writing, but the kinky sex that had women the world over going gaga for Grey.
The 2015 film was a colossal commercial hit bringing in over $500 million US at the global box office on a budget of just $40 million US.
So it was with dread that I took myself along to see the second installment in the trilogy on opening day, and contrary to my expectations I found this sequel an improvement on the original.
The two lead actors – Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey – have returned to reprise their steamy performances from 2015, picking up pretty much where they left off. Except this time they may be getting more money for getting their kit off.
Following the success of the first film for which they were both paid $250,000 US, the pair reportedly were keen to seek an increase to fulfill their trilogy commitment.
This second movie has been delayed for various reasons so I am interested to see whether it is still part of the current zeitgeist, or if global interest has waned as much as it seemed to for each subsequent book title.
Joining the two familiar faces are some much needed, and creepy, new characters.
First up we meet Leila (Bella Heathcote from The Man in The High Castle).
One of Grey’s previous submissive partners, she starts popping up all over the shop scaring the hell out of Ana. What does she want?! And why does she look so similar to Ana…?!
Then we have Jack – Ana’s current boss at the small publishing house where she works as his personal assistant. Uh-Oh! Ana watch out! The last boss you fell for had a dark past and drew you into his depraved world before you broke it off with him at the end of the last film. Remember?! Sure, Jack (Eric Johnson) is dashingly handsome and dead-keen on Ana, but something about him is off. And I don’t just mean his tweed waistcoat.
And last but not least the sublime Kim Basinger appears as Elena Lincoln, Christian Grey’s business partner and former lover who introduced him to the world of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) at the age of 15, earning her the nickname Mrs Robinson.
These new faces provide some dramatic relief from the seemingly neverending sex scenes which comprise about a third of the film.
While both lead actors are attractive and fit young people, their chemistry has yet to strike me as anything near believable.
They make a good show of being passionate physical lovers, but that’s about the extent of it.
The underlying issues of the distribution of power in their relationship have remained the most troubling aspects of the story for me, and while I appreciate anything that encourages consenting adults to engage in sexual behaviour that makes them happy in the real world, ie reading and watching Fifty Shades as a guilty pleasure,the fact that Christian was abused as a child, then as a teenager and must now find pleasure in abusing others is just plain sick to me.
Maybe I’m missing some greater point, but his control over Anastasia and his inability to accept her desire for their relationship to be over, combined with his insistence on ruling every aspect of her life when they reunite is just plain wrong.
The other vexing issue I have is that the film, besides reveling in its depiction of soft-core kinky sexual antics, also serves as a vehicle for “Wealth-Porn”.
This glimpse into the world of the ultra rich, the so-called 1 percenters with their untold wealth where money can solve every problem, sickens me. When Grey crashes his helicopter on a trip to a inspect a potential investment I almost cheered for the world to be rid of this nasty piece of work.
All in all, Fifty Shades Darker is an improvement on the first episode, but that’s hardly rich praise. The scenarios, lifted shamelessly from the daytime soaps and thrown into the wash with a dose of the Kardashians are outright laughable.
One thing that both films have absolutely excelled at, is in delivering an utterly throbbing soundtrack, and Darker is no exception, with entries from The Police to Sia via all sultry points in between, this at least is art I can enjoy.
The best-placed song from The Police which plays when Grey goes through his fitness routine, (and man is Jamie Dornan in good shape), is perfect in every sense. It’s telling that it is not present on the official soundtrack.
With E.L. James sitting alongside the likes of J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, Dan Brown, Enid Blyton, R.L. Stine and Ian Fleming in the list of book series that have sold more than 100 million copies, she has undoubtedly earned her place as an artist that can capture the imagination of millions of people across the planet.
I’m not one of them.
As for the film, I’m Fifty/Fifty. 2 & 1/2 Stars.