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Film review: Fifty Shades Darker – second adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic novels as dull and cold as the first one

Constrained by Hollywood mores and almost endearingly frigid, this is a film for teenagers, bulging as it is with chart-friendly hits from the likes of Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 1:09pm

1.5/5 stars

Picking up immediately after the events of Fifty Shades of Grey , the 2015 adaptation of E.L. James’ best-selling erotic novel, Fifty Shades Darker finds damaged twentysomething billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) desperate to win back unassuming publishing assistant Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson).

Despite a change in director (James Foley in for Sam Taylor-Johnson) and scriptwriter (James’ husband Niall Leonard), Fifty Shades Darker fails to ignite a spark between its leads, nor shake off the tepid, unadventurous tone of its predecessor.

Director James Foley talks S&M and shooting Fifty Shades Darker

Not for lack of trying. Anastasia’s new boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), is a renowned womaniser who makes his predatory intentions immediately clear. Christian reluctantly agrees to a “vanilla” relationship with Anastasia, this time unbridled by the rules or punishments of their previous dominant/submissive coupling.

But before long, Christian’s controlling, possessive behaviour is making things weird again, while ghosts from his past – namely a psychotic former “sub” (Bella Heathcote) and Kim Basinger’s veteran seductress – further complicate his reconciliation with Anastasia.

While James’ novels gained notoriety as sexually charged Twilight fan fiction before becoming the face of acceptable erotica, the films feel bound by the constraints of mainstream Hollywood, unable to venture into sufficiently salacious territory to make good on the promise of its source material.

Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct, back in 1992, was arguably the last film to make sex acceptable on screen, sparking a wave of imitators such as Body of Evidence and Indecent Proposal, before the fad died with Showgirls, now revered as something of a camp classic.

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Fifty Shades Darker takes itself far too seriously to warrant any similar ironic attraction, yet is neither sexy nor sleazy enough to be genuinely titillating, and fails even to acknowledge Basinger’s 9 1/2 Weeks pedigree. The film’s soundtrack, bulging with chart-friendly hits from the likes of Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik, betrays the underlying truth that this is a film for teenagers, albeit those who are at least thinking about their sexuality.

For anyone who has ever felt the touch of another, the series remains dull, cold and almost endearingly frigid.

Fifty Shades Darker opens on February 9

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