It’s time to head back to the Red Room this Friday when Fifty Shades Darker is unleashed on audiences across the country.
The sequel to 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey sees Jamie Dornan reprise his role as BDSM-loving Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson return as the object of his
obsession affection, Anastasia “Ana” Steele. But as far as most critics are concerned, they shouldn’t have bothered making the comeback.
James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) replaces Sam Taylor-Johnson, who helmed the first installment, as director and E.L. James’ husband, Niall Leonard, is added in as screenwriter. Unfortunately, as the reviews reveal, these changes do little to enliven the tension, sexual or otherwise. It seems not even Dornan and Johnson’s chemistry can save the movie — mostly because they don’t have any.
EW’s Devan Coggan gave the film a C-, pointing to the movie’s lack of any real excitement as the main criticism: “Worst of all, Darker commits what might be the most punishable offense: just being boring.” At least it looks pretty?
Read more of Coggan’s thoughts, as well as snippets from a selection of other reviews, below.
Devan Coggan, Entertainment Weekly
“Leonard sticks much closer to his wife’s original goofy plot, and the result is a bland story that never really commits to what it wants to be. Part romance, part thriller, and part soap opera, Darker never does any of those genres particularly well, instead delivering a softcore Hallmark Channel movie that’s neither sexy enough to be exciting nor campy enough to be any fun … Darker is strangely plotless and devoid of any real tension. Any actual plot points — spurned stalkers, creepy coworkers, helicopter crashes — are immediately resolved, often to be forgotten minutes later. There’s never even any question over whether these two beautiful bland people will end up together in the end, seeing as their only real personality trait is that they’re both inexplicably drawn to one another.”
Tom Gliatto, PEOPLE
“The movie, instead, relies almost wholly on the chemistry of Dornan and Johnson, except there is no such chemistry, not even when they’re naked and going at it with music that seems to be piped in from Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not just the lack of chemistry — it’s the lack of a sense of a relationship of power, a mastery of control by one partner balanced by the ceding of control by the other.”
John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
“Both leads are attractive and look good without clothes, but the roteness of their bulge-flexing intimacies is such that when, near the film’s end, the movie showed off Mr. Dornan’s physique in a gym scene, women at Wednesday’s preview screening were openly laughing at the contrivance … Blindfolds and tasteful wrist restraints are just this year’s superficial twist on the Cinderella story. Fifty Shades may take pains not to let Anastasia actually accept anything as gauche as cash for the body she hands over so willingly to her prince, as Julia Roberts did in Pretty Woman. But it’s hard to pretend this represents any meaningful step toward a future feminists can be proud of.”
Guy Lodge, Variety
“It’s perhaps unfair to knock James Foley’s serviceable, lip-glossed sequel merely for delivering what might have reasonably been expected in the first place: an expensively scented two-hour soapdown, interspersed with some light erotic frisking, all administered very much with the original author’s sticky-fingered touch. Sure to make Grey at the Valentine’s Day box office, Darker does almost nothing to fulfill the promise of its title, but it’s still diverting, sleekly styled and just sexy enough to frighten a few frigid horses.”
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
“It’s nice that the two photogenic leads are treating sex like a pleasurable activity rather than an onerous chore in this second entry, but overall, the film plays like an un-asked-for collaboration between the Hallmark and Playboy Channels … TV scribe Niall Leonard makes his film debut as a screenwriter, adapting the terrible prose of novelist E.L. James, to whom, by sheer coincidence, he happens to be married. There’s none of the occasional glimpses of self-aware humor that Kelly Marcel offered in the previous installment, just banalities, bromides and blank stares.”
Katie Rife, AV Club
“To put it politely, this movie has some structural issues. Director James Foley, who made some high-profile dramas back in the ’90s, is just working with James’ nonsensical source material as best he can. His approach lacks humor, however — probably the biggest laugh in the film is an unintentional one, when it’s revealed that Christian has a Chronicles Of Riddick poster on the wall in his teenage bedroom — meaning that, if you’re not swept up in the romance of it all, the only pleasures here are visual ones. And the film does look good, full of good-looking people in (and out of) nice clothes in front of spectacular vistas.”
Rafer Guzmán, Newsday
“Awkwardly directed by James Foley, who frequently shoves his leads into a corner of the screen as if he’s more interested in the fireplace (and you can’t blame him), Fifty Shades Darker would be a camp classic if its heroine weren’t so appallingly dishonest about what really turns her on: Wealth. Somehow, this shy young thing becomes more agreeable to instruments of torture — ankle cuffs, nipple clamps — the closer she gets to marrying the billionaire who wields them.”
Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent
“Fifty Shades Darker is an ordeal to watch not because of its gothic eroticism but because of its utter blandness. The film would surely have benefited from being gaudier, more kitsch and transgressive. Instead, this is telenovela-style storytelling with predictable villains and far too much simpering mawkishness.The cliffhanger ending is very crude too. It looks as if all these characters will soon be back for more. Cue the inevitable puns about flogging dead horses.”
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
“There are a fair number of R-rated sex scenes, repeated conversations about Christian’s controlling nature, and many (many) shots of Dornan and Johnson staring longingly into each other’s eyes. But there’s basically no tension, or even a story … Valentine’s Day moviegoers looking for a little titillation at the multiplex this year must choose between Fifty Shades or staying home. No wonder the first movie was a hit even though it stunk. Adult audiences are starved for sexy entertainment. They deserve a better class of smut than this.”