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Movie Review

Oh, Anastasia.

When last we saw the young woman, she was leaving her handsome, rich, fairly disturbed boyfriend, Christian Grey. Yeah, sure, he has the abs of a Michelangelo statue and buys businesses like breath mints. But let's face it: Something's a little troubling when your idea of a good time is beating your girlfriend 'til she cries. So in the last movie, 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey, she told the guy to take a hike and returned to her comfortably average, perfectly fine life.

But one should never underestimate the power of a damaged soul and that chiseled-yet-sensitive chin. When Ana gets a new job, Christian sends her a showy batch of roses. When she poses for a photographer friend of hers, Christian promptly buys all the portraits. "I don't like strangers gawking at you," he tells her.

He begs her to come back. He'll even renegotiate the terms. No more rules, he promises. No more punishments. Even though he still digs the whole idea of dominating his partners, he promises to forego it all and have, as he dismissively calls it, a "vanilla" relationship.

"You need all those things," Ana reminds him of his infamous, leather-laden red room.

"I need you more," Christian says.

Well, who'd reject a line like that? Besides a woman with a healthy sense of self and an understanding of human nature, that is. Sure enough, before Christian can even finalize the purchase of the publishing house where Ana works, she swoons back into his arms. Everything will be better this time, she wants to believe. This time he won't hurt me. This time I can save him.

Still, it's not like he's selling the whips and chains he keeps in his red room quite yet.

In fact, the real question is … does she even want him to?

Positive Elements

Fifty Shades Darker wants to be, at its core, a love story—albeit one that's entangled in atypical sexual expressions. Christian means what he says to Ana. He truly wants to shed his fetishes and be a normal, sane soulmate. Whether he ultimately follows through, well, that's yet to be seen.

Moreover, Christian's not just interested in sex here. He wants a real, monogamous relationship—even proposing marriage. Quite a shift from the cynical, contractual "arrangement" the two made in the first movie. And we know that Ana actually does help Christian become more … normal. Christian's adoptive mother, Grace, tells Ana what a positive difference she's seen in him since the two have been together.

We also learn a little about Christian's backstory—i.e., why the guy's so messed up. His biological mother died when Christian was just 4 years old, and his dad was horrifically abusive. He was literally saved by Grace—Grace Trevelyan Grey, who adopted the boy and gave him a much better (and much richer) home. Despite his chilly attitude toward Grace at times, Christian says he loves her. "I owe everything to Grace," he says. The Grey family is also quite philanthropic.

Spiritual Content

Christian makes a passing, sarcastic rerference to worshipping Ana.

Sexual Content

Fifty Shades Darker is all about sex, and there's a lot of it. If this film doesn't fit the most literal definition of pornography, it doesn't fall far short of it, either. Multiple sex scenes (and acts) include nudity, explicit movements and props. Some involve S&M and bondage. Genitals aren't shown. Everything else is, often for long onscreen moments. Christian also repeatedly, suggestively tries to arouse Ana in public.

We eventually hear why Christian enjoys causing women pain in sexual situations. We meet one of Christian's former "partners." She calls him "Master" (and she's amazed that Ana is allowed to call Christian by his real name). When Christian tells her to kneel, she gratefully does so, relishing his touch as he pets her head like he would a dog.

We also meet the woman, Elena, who introduced Christian to this shady sexual world when Christian was an underage teen. The two are still "friends," and they kiss on the cheek. Christian's brother and Ana's best friend are a couple. They joke about their sexual hunger. Christian invites Ana to move in with him, and she does.

Violent Content

Ana's publishing boss, Jack, also wants to bed Ana, and aims to do so by violent means if necessary. Late one night he comes on to her in his office. He clearly intends to rape her, but Ana hits him and knees him in the genitals, allowing her to get away.

One of Christian's former female partners stalks him and Ana. She appears briefly in front of Ana, sporting a bloodied bandage on her wrist. (We're later told that she slit her wrist in front of Christian's housekeeper.) She bashes and dumps paint over Ana's car. Later, she breaks into Ana's apartment with a gun—firing a bullet into a wall.

Christian's helicopter runs into trouble, and he temporarily disappears as some fear the worst. A woman has a drink thrown in her face and, shortly thereafter, gets slapped. As mentioned, Christian and Ana's sexual relationship at times includes acts that cause Ana pain.

Christian bears several scars on his chest, presumably cigarette burns from his abusive father. We hear about someone dying in a car crash.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used seven or eight times, the s-word another five. God's name is misused nearly 20 times, once with the word "d--n" and several times in the heat of passion. Jesus' name is abused thrice. Other profanity includes "a--," "d--n" and "h---."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Christian's birth mother was a crack addict, we're told. She overdosed and died on the floor, according to Christian, and he spent three days alone with the body. His birth father smoked cigarettes: In flashback, we see one glowing in his mouth as he reaches for Christian, who's just a fearful boy at that point.

Alcohol flows freely. We see Ana, Christian and others drink and carry around glasses of wine and champagne. She and some friends have beer at a bar. People drink martinis. Jack invites Ana to have a "round of drinks" at a corner watering hole.

Other Negative Elements

Christian again displays some worrying, obsessive traits regarding Ana and other women. He reveals that he has files on all his submissive partners, including Ana. He sometimes orders Ana around. He knows her banking information and buys the publishing house she works at, perhaps to keep track of her. "This isn't a relationship," Ana tells Christian. "It's ownership."

Conclusion

When I was a kid, my parents sometimes used to take me to old-timey melodramas—hackneyed, one-dimensional plays in which the audience was encouraged to cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys and utter a loud "awwww" whenever the leading man and woman would bat their eyes at each other.

It may sound odd, but Fifty Shades Darker reminds me a little of those melodramas—only with lots more sex.

Even without the sex, Fifty Shades is really a terrible film. But that didn't stop the ladies next to me (and this film is primarily aimed at women) from cheering a villain's comeuppance to uttering a loud "awwww" whenever Christian said something vaguely romantic. Clearly, the movie's narrative held charms for these ladies that I simply missed (and most others, judging from its current 10% "freshness" rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

But Fifty Shades is, of course, overwhelmed with sex. The film never would've gotten made—and certainly never found an audience—without it. Physical connection permeates it from the opening credits to the closing crawl. And while some movie directors insist (often dubiously) that they use sex scenes to further their narratives, sex is the narrative here.

Fifty Shades Darker is not without merits, strange and twisted as they may be. A few hardy souls could read an echo of spiritual metaphor in the protagonist's journey (named Christian), a man desperately seeking salvation from his own sins and inner demons through the power and beauty of real, honest-to-goodness love.

But hey, let's not get carried away here. The film pays only lip service to love. Its real preoccupation is of a much more fleshly variety.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele; Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey; Eric Johnson as Jack Hyde; Eloise Mumford as Kate Kavanagh; Bella Heathcote as Leila; Rita Ora as Mia Grey; Luke Grimes as Elliot Grey; Victor Rasuk as Jose; Kim Basinger as Elena Lincoln; Marcia Gay Harden as Grace Trevelyan Grey

Director

James Foley ( Perfect Stranger)

Distributor

Universal Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 10, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

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