Sometimes desire outweighs common sense. When we last saw Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, excellent again), she walked out on billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, tailored for steely efficiency). She couldn’t reconcile the latter’s thirst for dominance which included pain at the expense of happiness. By now, the kinkiness behind Fifty Shades of Grey as a literary phenomenon and box office smash probably won’t shock most people.
Above all, Fifty Shades Darker emerges well dressed, yet just as candid about feelings. Ana’s attraction to Christian was instant, the latter’s mystique a window into mischief. Perhaps the cheek regarding the Fifty Shades legacy (from E. L. James’ bestsellers) concerns the breakdown of boundaries. Through Christian, Ana achieves sexual liberation. At first, the playboy desired a lover he could control. Yet Fifty Shades Darker reveals some emotional flexibility which endears him to both girlfriend and viewer. Out of love or perhaps an evolution in self-awareness, he adapts to her needs. Thus, a barrier once thought unbreakable disappears entirely. In short, I found their scenes quite touching, while Johnson remains a constantly surprising character actress.
One of my favourite dating moments involves the annoying waiter. It’s the first time that Ana and Christian have talked since their farewell in Fifty Shades of Grey. Having to endure the waiter’s noisy progress as he opens a bottle of red wine induces a giggle or two. Here the thespians play out such awkwardness to charming effect. They have important things to say, and the third party gets the hint that he’s not wanted. This represents one of the many things Fifty Shades Darker does better than the first film. Those rules governing their intimate encounters have diminished. Meanwhile, there’s more of an arc to Christian’s journey because he seems less biased about his own preferences. As such, it’s more about what he contributes to the relationship.
By design, the film looks stunning. Previously, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey rendered a world of cool contrasts. For instance, he captured the ashen grey tie worn by Christian as a backdrop to Ana’s deep red lips. For Fifty Shades Darker, McGarvey’s replacement John Schwartzman (Seabiscuit) nails the consistency. However, such elegance ends up enhanced by 1940s backlight and camerawork that’s far from antiseptic.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “R” for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.)