Movie Review: 'Fifty Shades Darker' (2017)

Bolder, sexier, and loaded with eroticism, “Fifty Shades Darker” is everything a sequel should be, greater than the sum of its original. “Fifty Shades Darker” fully realizes the potential of its source material, in a movie that dares to be free with its sensuality, and contemplative with its story. To state the matter plainly, “Fifty Shades Darker” is the first movie to snap this film enthusiast out of their 6-month, movie-viewing slumber.

While it is has a few rough edges, and a third act that runs into some pacing issues, “Fifty Shades Darker” more than makes up for it. Armed with a spectacular soundtrack, “Darker” is exceedingly entertaining, a rarity these days. It is a sexy, brooding, romanticized fantasy that knows what it is doing, and what it is about.

The second “Fifty Shades” picks up shortly after the events of the original. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is still estranged from Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who she broke up with at the end of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” when she realized his predilections went beyond what she was comfortable with.

When “Fifty Shades Darker” begins, Ana is standing firm, and strong in her decision. Albeit Christian’s relentless pursuit ultimately wins out, when he asks for a second chance, adding he will change for her.

It is the beginning of a healthier relationship. One that is far more palatable than how the original, posited the coupling. Ana is honest and straightforward about what she wants, and she will not take “no” or “sort of,” for an answer.

Fifty Shades Darker - Movie Poster - Christian Character
[Image by Universal Pictures]
This creates room for Christian’s troubled and traumatized past to be explored, as he tries to reconcile with his demons, for the first woman he has been willing to fight them for. “Fifty Shades Darker” is not a story about how Ana, a flawless heroine, saves the bad boy.

This is about two adult people working together to shoulder a relationship as equals and build a life together. It may not seem that hopeful on the surface, but do not be fooled. There is something optimistic that counterbalances the darkness surrounding this tale. “Fifty Shades” is a romance, that does not work to justify itself to its audience, rather explain it.

There is an introspective quality to the sequel’s script that enhances the bones of “Fifty Shades” as a character study. It asks how this couple will overcome Christian’s past, whilst wondering aloud if they honestly can. Is this a healthy relationship for Ana? Can Christian really change, and if so, how does he go about that?

These questions are all explored with surprising depth, and while many might disagree with the conclusions its characters reach regarding them, they cannot say they were not addressed. When it is posing these questions, “Fifty Shades Darker” is at its most effective, as a romance, and a drama. As a whole, “Fifty Shades” does possess more food for thought, than it is typically given credit for.

Fifty Shades Darker - Movie Poster - Anna Character
[Image by Universal Pictures]
When it comes to its handling of the franchise’s most infamous quality, “Fifty Shades Darker” exceeds all expectations. In its second outing, “Fifty Shades” wears its sensuality with a tasteful pride that is staggering. Director James Foley captures the film’s erotic splendor with the mastery of Zalman King and Adrian Lyne. Foley finds the difference, between sizzle and fizzle with a finesse which never tires, and that is no easy task.

Helping make Foley’s job easier is the outstanding turn of actress Dakota Johnson, who yet again, sets the screen ablaze with a performance that is sweet, open, relatable, and classy. She plays Ana as an innocent young woman, who also knows her way around a masquerade mask and the man who puts it on her.

“Fifty Shades Darker” rests on Johnson's performance and she never buckles under the weight. Johnson’s take on Ana is so amiable, it is impossible to root against her. She brings a depth to Ana that gives the steamy drama, its heart, and by extension, its pulse.

Her co-star, Jamie Dornan, ups the stakes in his second outing, as Christian Grey. Dornan appears more comfortable in the role, and it shows. His chemistry with Johnson benefits from it, greatly.

This time around, Dornan better captures Grey’s dark humor, protective persona, and emotionally wounded, internal struggle. While the complete depth of his astonishing performance on “The Fall” remains absent, the potential for it to emerge remains constant.

Thanks to a strong synergy behind the camera, and in front, “Fifty Shades Darker” marks a major movie, bright spot. While the original showed promise, “Darker” builds on it, and leaves you wanting more, while also quenching the thirst for everything fans have waited for. Thankfully, its sweltering aspects should not make you turn fifty shades of red, rather a pleasant shade of blushing pink.

Rating: 7.8/10

[Featured Image by Universal Pictures]