There’s nothing I hate more than a mediocre movie. As weird as it may sound, bad movies are usually fun to watch through a critical lens. There are far more usable synonyms for “bad” than for “meh.” I’ve come to love the Transformers and Fast and Furious franchises because they make it easy for me to exercise my growing superiority complex.
However, when faced with a truly middle of the road film, I’m faced with a dilemma. If I like it too much, I’ll lose credibility as a “critic.” On the other hand, if I like it too little I get told I’m being negative for the sake of being negative. Fortunately for me, and you, Fifty Shades Freed isn’t one of those cases — this movie sucks.
I got to review Fifty Shades Darker around this time last year and it seems that between then and now, the movie franchise hasn’t made an inch of progress. Chief among my issues with the franchise’s penultimate installation is just how little agency Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is written with. Through two movies primarily targeted at a female demographic, she almost entirely existed to compliment men.
In the first film, Anastasia allows herself to become seduced by a mysterious man clearly beset by some sexual demons. That, I can forgive — it’s the whole fantasy this franchise’s allure is predicated upon. However, in the second film our “heroine” allows herself to be bought and coaxed back into a clearly toxic situation by a man who is — when you strip away the smoldering intrigue and Jamie Dornan’s delicious abdominal muscles — a stalker. And we have to watch our main character repeatedly give in to his every perverse wish! These movies are just the opposite of empowering.
The new movie’s title, Fifty Shades Freed, led me to believe we might finally see some sort of redeeming character arc for Anastasia. Perhaps after seeing Christian Grey’s “50 shades of fucked up” (that’s seriously a line from the first movie), then seeing them get “Darker,” she’d be ready to move on … to be “Freed,” if you will. Perhaps the new movie would show us Anastasia “healing” Christian. Perhaps she’d finally see that he’s a lost cause and move on. So did it?
Of course it didn’t. I guess I’m naive for hoping for any hint of legitimate character growth. I suppose the mind-boggling box office returns of this franchise have blinded me to the fact that it’s all based on a Twilight fanfiction (That’s not a joke either. Google it.). When considering this, these movies almost make sense, but considering that the franchise just surpassed a billion dollars worldwide, I don’t think it’s absurd for us to expect something more substantive. Though I haven’t read the books, I’m sure the plot of this film is pretty tightly based on it’s novel. I’ve seen the Fifty Shades books on sales lists next to Harry Potter and the Bible, so I assume author E.L. James crammed more nuance and detail into the books than the movies’ audiences could stomach. The final book, on which this new film is based, comes in at 592 pages, in which I’m sure intricate characterizations and plotlines are satisfactorily developed.
Unfortunately, the new movie plays like a frantically written summary. I’m sure the book could handle setting up and resolving marriage, workplace, jealousy, vacation, pregnancy, hostage crisis, medical emergency and long-lost brother storylines, whereas a two-hour long movie definitely cannot.
Maybe if I’d read the books I could sit in the theater and be pleasantly surprised whenever the screenwriters made time for one of my favorite scenes, but as someone judging this franchise solely on the cinematic adaptations, I’m left utterly bewildered. On top of that, Freed had the balls to include a multi-minute flashback sequence of Christian and Anastasia’s relationship that featured clips from the movie I was currently watching!
The positive character arc I so foolishly hoped we’d see for Anastasia is passed over for an unfulfilling series of small moments in which the movie tries to show us that she’s become what, spunky? She’s ever so slightly more comfortable “defying” Christian? Whoa! She can drive a fancy car slightly more competently than he thought she could? Amazing! She uses her safe word during a session in the BDSM playroom? I take back what I said earlier, what an empowering female role model she’s become!
So the plot’s a mess and poor writing and delivery continually yank the audience out of the film, but how’s the sex? That’s why we’re all here after all.
Just disappointing. I will say that the third film ramped up the sex scenes a notch but the “romance” is still unbelievably boring. For the third time in three movies, I’ve been enticed by the concept of kinky escapism only to be left wanting more. It’s the one thing I kept telling myself these films could do right but the Dornan-Johnson chemistry continued to fall flat for me.
When the movie does get around to actually showing some action it’s taken away so quick it’s almost as if it’s teasing the audience. If edge-of-your-seat sex is what you’re hoping for, I’ll save you $14.90 — stop reading this article, open an incognito window on whatever internet-connected device you fancy, type “BDSM” into your search bar and click “I’m Feeling Lucky.” I can promise you’ll be more satisfied or, at the very least, less confused than you will be if you choose to sit through Freed.
I’ll end on some positive notes — I’m not made of stone. Firstly, like the first two movies, Fifty Shades Freed is filled with beautiful, sweeping cinematography and pretty decent music. Listening to the soundtrack on Spotify is definitely more engaging than actually watching the movie. Secondly, I’m pretty sure I gonna remember this Valentine’s fondly, but only because Black Panther comes out Friday.
Nick Smith is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.