The downside of being a Pop Culture commentator is that sometimes you have to expose yourself to something notoriously bad so that you can have an informed opinion. So yes, I have read all three books in E.L. James’s best-selling Fifty Shades trilogy. I watched 2015 movie adaptation Fifty Shades of Grey. And I vowed to approach sequel Fifty Shades Darker – this year’s big Valentine’s Day cinema release – with an open mind.

As a novel, Fifty Shades Darker is the bes..least bad of the three erotic romances. It actually is a thriller, for one thing. There is enough intrigue to sustain the reader, between references to heroine Anastasia Steele’s sashaying inner goddess and billionaire boyfriend Christian Grey’s deeply disturbing, over-controlling tendencies.

The plot of the film adaptation is pretty much the same as the book: Ana (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) decide to give their relationship another shot – this time without Christian’s contracts, secrets and sadomasochism. But, of course, the path to young-rich-white-people love is never easy. Complications appear in the form of Ana’s sleaze boss (Eric Johnson), one of Christian’s crazy ex-subs (Bella Heathcote), and Elena Lincoln (erotic thriller veteran Kim Basinger), the older woman who introduced Christian to S&M.

Now the first Fifty Shades movie was terrible. I thought it might be watchable as it would obviously be free of the stylistically awful writing that made Book 1 so bad. However, Fifty Shades of Grey felt like a tedious R-rated episode of the Bachelor or Bachelorette. It was 130 minutes of Christian doing Red Flag abusive partner things, and then redeeming himself in Ana’s eyes by lavishing ridiculously expensive gifts on her and taking her on glider and helicopter flights – all while pop ballads boomed on repeat. The film demonstrated an incredibly distasteful, materialistic attitude to love. If it truly reflects the romantic aspirations of many people, then God help civilisation.

Read  Ana and Christian are back in this trailer for Fifty Shades Freed

Still, here we are two years later. Fifty Shades Darker is based on a better book, and features a talent shuffle behind the camera. Veteran director James Foley has helmed multiple episodes of House of Cards, acclaimed drama Glengarry Glen Ross, and a smattering of thrillers, crime tales and action films. Meanwhile, for better or worse, E.L. James’s husband wrote the screenplay.

Was it worth giving Fifty Shades Darker the benefit of the doubt? How does it compare to Fifty Shades of Grey? Well, many of the same problems are still present. Instead of glider flights, this time there are fancy costumed balls and private yacht cruises to wow Ana, and for singers to screech over. Meanwhile, the lead characters are still emotional juveniles, skimming – sorry, shagging – over their problems instead of truly resolving anything. That said, you can’t fault the actors. This is especially true for Johnson, who has the very difficult task of balancing Ana’s stunned naiveté and defiant spirit.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Fifty Shades Darker, though, is that despite including more high stakes drama, it still feels boring and drawn out. You’ll probably find yourself checking your watch multiple times, and the movie isn’t even two hours long. Also, while the film’s three complicating factors do liven things up, they are each dismissed in an unsatisfying, blink-and-it’s-over manner.

Read  Ana and Christian are back in this trailer for Fifty Shades Freed

Still, Fifty Shades Darker does satisfy in some aspects. There are a couple of genuine laughs. An amusing scene with Ben Wa balls rings true, so to speak. Most importantly, as many people will probably be watching it on 14 February, it actually works as a Valentine’s Day movie. Fifty Shades of Grey had a downer ending. Fifty Shades Darker is the opposite. There were audible “aaaawwwws” from the audience at the screening I attended.

In short, Fifty Shades Darker is a slight step-up from its predecessor. It’s very problematic, it feels overlong and could have generated more tension out of its life-threatening drama, but it’s not an unwatchable turkey. Franchise fans should be happy. Everyone else can probably push through to the end for their partner’s sake.


Last Updated: May 23, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker
Fifty Shades Darker is a slight step up from Fifty Shades of Grey. Many of the first movie's problems remain, but the sequel is watchable enough as a Valentine's Day cinema option.
33/ 100

Noelle Adams

Sometime Tomb Raider. Full-time Pop Culture fanatic and Geekaissance Woman. Most often spotted outputting Pop Culture opinion pieces, writing fanfic and original genre fare, cosplaying and bringing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu smackdown. Editor of the Comics and Toys section.

  • Still a better love story than Twilight?

    • Praise KEK

      Gummibears is a better love story than Twilight LOL

      • Admiral Chief

        Gummibears are awesome!

        • Original Heretic

          They’re not just awesome.

          They’re dashing. And daring. Courageous. And caring.

          • I have something similar…


          • Original Heretic

            Please keep your furry tendencies and comments away from my eyes!

          • MonsterCheddar


          • Admiral Chief


            Someone got it!

          • Original Heretic

            Now I’ve got the song in my head.

            I aint complaining, though the people in the office with me might start objecting when my humming gets too loud.

          • Admiral Chief

            GO LOUD AND PROUD! Heretic style!

        • MonsterCheddar

          That they are.

        • MonsterCheddar

          • Banana Jim’s Final Form!

            It’s amazing that after all these years, when that song starts playing, you not only know the words, but you sing along…. like a boss!

        • Praise KEK

          They sure are. until they fuck it up by remaking it.

  • Praise KEK

    Should have asked Brazzers to rather make this movie. I guess more dudes would have lined up to watch it then XD

  • MonsterCheddar

    “The downside of being a Pop Culture commentator is that sometimes you have to expose yourself to something notoriously bad so that you can have an informed opinion.”

    Ahem. Sure, call it that. We will go with that excuse.

  • Admiral Chief

    LOL calling 4/10 a “step up” hahaha oh man, was the first one really that bad?

    • MonsterCheddar

      She is trying to fool us. She secretly loved it. 😛

      • Admiral Chief

        Don’t ever let her blindfold you then

        • MonsterCheddar

          Yep. Took my wife to watch the first one…….Big mistake…..I have enever experienced so many WTF, WT HOLY F moments from her after that. I was scarred for a while.

          • R1ker

            I did the same. Lekkerste wat ek nog geslaap het in ‘n movie

  • Skittle

    “the path to young-rich-white-people love” – was this really necessary?

    • Praise KEK

      Of course not. But for the sake of modern journalism, it must be brought up.

    • Admiral Chief

    • Magoo

      I thought it was funny. xD

  • Ir0nseraph

    Great score so I can add it to my never need to watch list just like the first one.

  • Banana Jim’s Final Form!

    Consider the following scenario: You’re sitting in your cubicle at work, when your sexy co-worker walks up to and whispers in your ear “[insert your name], I hope this isn’t inappropriate but I was wondering if you’d like to go to a movie with me on Valentine’s Day?”. You haven’t been on a date since they cancelled Firefly, so obviously your answer is… “Mmmm kayyyyy, but can it be the morning show? Because my mom needs me at home to feed Mr Buttons the cat”.

    But you see, here’s the problem, she wants to go see Fifty shades Darker and you want to go see the new Lego Batman movie.

    What do you do?



    • Praise KEK

      Interesting scenario. Since it is the morning movie, you know for sure you will not be getting any after the show, since it will be considered low class to take her out for drinks afterwards. Unless you slip in a papsak and two plastic Castle draught glasses for you and this cherry. Alas, that will be impossible as well. Just rather go and watch the Lego movie, because if she is willing to go to a morning movie with you, it means she is looking for a sucker to pay for the tickets, and breakfast! trololol

  • TriangularRoom

    I love that 4/10 is a step UP!

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