‘Fifty Shades Freed’ Review: An Underwhelming Climax
Fifty Shades Freed sends the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise off with a bang — or technically several bangs, although none of them are particularly memorable. That remains the persistent and peculiar problem with the Fifty Shades movies: They’re entirely about sex, but all the sex is bland and unremarkable. The stars, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, are extremely attractive, and they spend a fair portion of the movie in various states of undress and/or coitus. But despite this series’ naughty reputation, the love scenes are pretty much standard (and therefore neutered) Hollywood fare. If you go to see this movie because you want to watch people have sex, I have this thing I want to tell you about; it’s called “internet pornography.”
There really isn’t much more to the movie than that; most of the major conflict has been resolved by the time Fifty Shades Freed begins with the wedding of Johnson’s book editor Anastasia Steele and Dornan’s professional rich dude Christian Grey. In the first film, Ana and Christian met and dated, but she ultimately left him because she wasn’t quite down with his BDSM proclivities; they reconciled in the second movie. After a whirlwind Parisian honeymoon, they return home hoping to settle into their new life together, only to find themselves in car chases and kidnap plots with the super evil Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s disgraced former boss.
The Jack Hyde nonsense, and his reasons for devoting his every waking moment to destroying a former co-worker, are flimsier than Dakota Johnson’s boudoir attire. At least he’s present, though; a surprising amount of Freed’s story hinges on people from the previous films who don’t even show up in this one. Kim Basinger was the soapy highlight of Fifty Shades Darker as the older woman who initiated a young Christian into the world of BDSM. Basinger didn’t return for Fifty Shades Freed, but her character plays a crucial role in the film’s third act, leading to a bizarre situation where Ana and Christian are arguing over a conversation the audience hasn’t seen involving a person who’s not in the movie at all. Drama!
But let’s get real here. You don’t buy a ticket to Fifty Shades Freed for a drama, you buy it for the fantasy; of a lavish life of luxury items, fabulous clothes, and occasional sex toys with an obscenely rich, incredibly hunky guy who’s got enough money to buy a mansion on a whim but never seems to go to an office and can leave work at a drop of a hat to whisk you away to Apsen for the weekend. If only director James Foley shot the sex scenes with the same fetishistic zeal he uses on the shots documenting Christian’s wealth; the movie gets off way more on his houses and jets and fleet of Audis than on anything inside his infamous Red Room.
Even after three movies, Johnson and Dornan’s chemistry is adequate at best — although some of that may have to do with the way their characters are written so that they spend pretty much every moment out of bed bickering, and not in a playful screwball comedy sort of way. Meanwhile, for all the talk about his perversions, Christian mostly seems to get off on — are you sitting down? — missionary position sex with his wife. How this thing avoided an NC-17, I’ll never know.
Fifty Shades Freed must set a record for the most subplots and supporting characters introduced and then abandoned in film history. Christian wants Ana to take his last name, she says she’ll think about it and ... the topic never comes up again. Then she begins working with a new author named Boyce Fox (which might be the silliest name in this entire franchise, which is really saying something), and Christian gets jealous, but then Boyce vanishes from the movie, never to be heard from again. (Maybe Jack Hyde kidnapped him too and forgot to tell Ana about it?) Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Christian’s mother, appears in two scenes and says three lines. I hope she wasn’t paid per word.
With the series winding down now, it’s worth considering Fifty Shades of Grey’s legacy. Even before the release of Fifty Shades Freed, this series has already grossed almost $1 billion worldwide. And yet despite all those tickets sold, this franchise leaves little footprint on the entertainment world. When people remember Fifty Shades, they’ll think about Johnson and Dornan, and maybe the scene in the second movie where Dornan performed an impressive act of sexy gymkata on a pommel horse. But probably they won’t remember them at all.
-No one has ever been worse at their jobs than Christian Grey’s security team is at theirs. They are repeatedly outwitted by a homeless former book editor, and Ana is able to sneak away from their protection whenever she wants. They should all be fired.
-Jack Hyde leaves Christian Grey a note that reads “YOU OWE ME A LIFE” and for one brief, magical moment, I thought Fifty Shades Freed was about to turn into a Man of Tai Chi sequel.
-Credit where credit’s due: There is one really funny moment involving a pair of handcuffs. If only the rest didn’t feel like torture.