Most would agree that the Fifty Shades books are a cross between fanfiction and a trashy beach read – no one is going to be proclaiming E.L. James author of the year any time soon – but the movies based on these books are only slightly better, in that they are faster to get through than the books. In Fifty Shades of Grey we were introduced to naïve doormat Anastasia Steel, and her billionaire stalker Christian Grey. Then, in Fifty Shades Darker, we learn that Christian had a mistress when he was underage – this was included simply because statutory rape adds spice to any movie romance. There was also an ex-slave of Christian’s who stalked Anna because she wanted her hunky master back. But all this was clearly not enough: we also had Anna’s boss Jack Hyde sexually assaulting her and trying to murder Christian by sabotaging his helicopter – talk about rich people problems – and now, with Fifty Shades Freed, we get the “startling” climax where we hope to learn if gorgeous women and billionaire playboys can have a happily ever after.
The movie opens with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) tying the knot with her billionaire boyfriend Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), but after some interminable banter and light bondage, their honeymoon is cut short when they learn that Anna’s ex-boss/sexual assaulter Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) has broken into the headquarters of Christian’s company to steal some private files. The only reason this particular crime was possible is because in the last movie neither Anna nor Christian thought it important enough to inform the police of Hyde’s assault on Anna because of…reasons?
Dakota Johnson attempts to do something with her character this time around – she gets all alpha when a slutty architect flirts with her man – but it’s hard to get past the fact that she’s married to a guy that any sane person would have fled from as fast as their million dollar sports car could take them. Sure, I bet there are lot of people who would put up with worse if it meant they could live in the lap of luxury – private jets and fast cars are nice – but that isn’t the type of character Anastasia Steele is supposed to be, and at some point the whole “I was abused as a child and sexually preyed upon as a teen” would no longer wash as an excuse for Christian being a total dick.
There is a point in the movie when Anna discovers she is pregnant – causing Christian to go into full on petulant child mode because he doesn’t want to share her with anyone, least of all a child – and Anna finally tells him, “You need to grow the fuck up.” Now, this seems like Anna is finally growing a spine by standing up to Christian, but director James Foley undercuts it all by having the scene play out with Anna in her underwear. I will admit to finding Dakota Johnson very attractive, and seeing her naked is certainly no viewing hardship, but at some point, I started to wonder if in the making of this movie they had long bull sessions where they discussed ways in which to get her character naked.
The only thing “freed” in Fifty Shades Freed is any semblance of character or plot, and when we aren’t being treated to PG 13 sex scenes, we are bored further by pointless moments with Anastasia and her friend Carla (Jennifer Ehle) – who thinks that her boyfriend Elliot Grey (Luke Grimes) is cheating on her – and not only is none of that resolved, it’s not even vaguely interesting. Then we have Jack Hyde – possibly the dumbest criminal in the history of sex crimes – who breaks into Anna and Christian’s apartment with the apparent plan of kidnapping Anna at knife point. And just how dumb is this plan? Well, earlier we discovered that the reason he broke into Christian’s files was to help with his stalking – how corporate files aid in stalking is never made clear – but somehow he forgets the age-old truism that two armed bodyguards trump a kitchen knife, and so he gets his ass kicked. How this guy ever became an editor of a successful publishing company is beyond me. Of course, Christian gets all pissed that Anna had disobeyed him – she went out for drinks with Carla when he told her to go straight home – even though the threat was waiting for her at home and not at the bar. He goes even further into “I’m a total dick” territory by bringing her to the Red Room the next day so that he can punish her with orgasm denial.
The movie reaches its “climax” when Jack kidnaps Christian’s sister – somehow Hyde’s research has finally paid off and he is able to outsmart Grey security – and he demands that Anna bring him five million dollars. He also tells her that if she informs anybody of what is going on, Christian will be getting his sister back in pieces. Then he tells her that she has less than two hours to get the money, and when she tells him this is impossible, he responds, “You were smart enough to take my job, you’ll figure it out.” The problem here is that his request really is impossible. Completely and utterly impossible. Even if one of Christian’s banks had five million dollars on hand – which most banks don’t – what makes Jack think a newlywed wife would have access to that kind of money?
Fifty Shades Freed is basically a drippy television romance show – with some PG 13 bondage tossed into spice things up – but upon realizing that even the easiest audience would get bored with this after awhile, author E.L. James throws in some ridiculous crazed villain subplot that wouldn’t pass muster in a Harlequin romance story. That this series of movies has made any money is clearly due to a collection of weird dating choices (these films were all released on Valentine’s Day), and a lot of suburban moms day-drinking and ending up at the multiplex. If you want to watch a movie with alternative BDSM lifestyle, check out films like The Story of O or The Image and give the Fifty Shades movies a wide berth.
Most Laughable Moment: We learn that Jack Hyde has a history of having sex with his assistants – blackmailing them with pictures he has taken of their time together – and somehow this translates into forcing his former assistant Liz (Amy Price-Francis) into helping him with the whole stalking and kidnapping plan. Does Liz not realize kidnapping is a federal crime and could land her a life sentence? What kind of pictures could he possibly have that would coerce her into aiding and abetting such a crime?
Fifty Shades Freed (2018)
Fifty Shades Freed is guilty of poor character development, ridiculous plotting, but mostly for not fulling the promise of being even remotely erotic.