18 – 118mins – 2017
It slaps (ahem) of irony that the author of the world’s biggest-selling trilogy of BDSM-flavoured ‘mummy porn’ was so dominant in protecting her property that both the writer and the director of 2015’s record-breaking first big screen adaptation tore up their contracts and walked away from the filthy franchise, calling for new submissives to be brought into the notorious Red Room ahead of this middle instalment.
Enter director James Foley, who last helmed a feature film (Halle Berry’s Perfect Strangers) a decade ago before a preference for dramatic TV gigs such as Hannibal, Wayward Pines and House of Cards, and screenwriter Niall Leonard, who just so happens to be Mr. E.L. James. In front of the camera, however, the cast remains unchanged, and with so many returning faces in roles large and small it’s hard to be too disturbed by the changes.
If you were morally outraged by Fifty Shades of Grey then it’s best to dismiss your curiosity and stay away because Darker is unlikely to win you over. Christian Grey (Jamie Shadows in the Sun Dornan) is still a touch-adverse control-freak with more money than whips, while the object of his twisted affections, Miss Anastasia Steel (Dakota How To Be Single Johnson), is still a sweet, stuttering innocent who, for reasons entirely her own, cannot resist the ‘charms’ of the sadistic millionaire’s “kinky fuckery.”
Call me jaded, but despite the presence of vaginal beads and a spreader, the sex on show second time out is tamer and less steamy. Okay, it’s not strictly “vanilla” but it’s certainly bondage-light, collaborating the claim that producers are pushing for the series – released once again on Valentine’s weekend – to be seen as a romance above all else.
It’s hard to whole-heartedly agree with such a view in Darker‘s opening half an hour with a deeper delve into the titular “Master’s” ugly past paralleled with a clear indication that this tortured soul cannot scale-back his excessive overprotective nature. The speed with which Ana is won over time-and-again verges on disturbing.
Such disparity in their relationship equates to an uncomfortable first half, with Darker certainly living up to its name. Nevertheless, once the on-again pair re-establish a more even keel – with Ana claiming assertive victories over her sleazy new boss (Eric Johnson) and Christian’s bitchy “Mrs. Robinson” (Kim Basinger) – the film falls into the same groove as the first film. The two hour runtime flies by.
Attempts at drama in the form of a psycho ex from Christian’s past (Bella Heathcote) and a helicopter emergency are little more than distractions from the main focus, which is Johnson and Dornan’s magnetism. Haters will hate, but despite the flaws which were earmarked before we even sat down, Fifty Shades Darker is just as entertaining as its infamous predecessor – provided you can handle the heat in the bedroom. And Red Room. And shower…
CR@B’s Claw Score: