Director: James Foley
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Rita Ora
While it was guilty of a multitude of sins, sloppy seconds Fifty Shades Darker did manage to provide the comedic high point of the series thus far; an astonishing sequence in which Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) was involved in a helicopter crash only to spontaneously appear, fresh as a daisy, at his penthouse apartment, much to the delight and surprise of his nearest and dearest, whom he hadn’t the presence of mind to contact in the interim. This baffling turn of events spun the po-faced franchise briefly into the realm of high camp. Sadly, once the incident was over, it quickly returned to snooze-worthy cruise control.
Here we are again, then, back for the closing chapter of a trilogy with precious little dignity remaining in it. What started out as a media-hyped event is now little more than a footnote (“Oh, is that out already?” is a response I’ve heard more than once this week), largely down to the blandness of the material already presented. Freed opens with the wedding of Grey and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), before skimming through the highlights of their European honeymoon. Married life seems to suit our heroine well; Anna is emboldened in the relationship, and it feels for the first time as though they’re on a level playing field. Indeed, she is positively assertive throughout this final chapter, and it’s the source of most of the movie’s enjoyment. Grey literally puts her in the driving seat for a car chase which is really quite smartly assembled.
Anna takes to her new freedoms well, baiting her partner to punish her when she dares to make decisions for herself. This, it transpires, is the movie’s only nod to the dom/sub basis of their relationship. What was once the crux of the whole story and the reason for its existence has become little more than a bit of trivia about their love life. If you’re looking for insightful drama on the subject, you’d be strongly encouraged to look elsewhere (Secretary, The Duke of Burgundy, even Phantom Thread which is in cinemas now). As you might have guessed, this means that the already tepid sex scenes are even more vanilla than we’ve seen previously, right down to the ice cream flavour included in a particularly unsexy sequence (an odd bit of product placement for Ben & Jerry’s; I’d have loved to have been in that meeting).
With very little kink between the sheets, and with his new wife establishing her equality, Mr Grey (aka Captain Prissypants) is left with little to do but mope and pout. There’s a degree of enjoyment to be had from watching him whine and complain that he’s not ceaselessly getting his own way anymore. If anything is psychologically revealing in Freed it is this pettiness. It even provides us the golden opportunity of seeing Dornan’s ‘drunk’ acting; one of a few generous moments here that allow us to laugh at least. Dornan is a good actor. His work on the TV series The Fall is ample proof of this. Credit, therefore, must go to director James Foley for managing to coax this particular level of nonsense from him.
With their sex life unremarkable and married life ticking over without much drama, there’s precious little narrative thrust for the first hour of Freed. It mostly feels like you’re watching a mid-season instalment of a syndicated TV series that gets commissioned for 22 unremarkable episodes a year. What’s curious is that this actually allows Fifty Shades room to breathe. There are no stakes, and in dropping its guard like this, Freed actually manages to feel sort of… pleasant. It asks absolutely nothing of a viewer, lets up a little on that oh-so-serious tone, and gifts us a smattering of new storylines that lead absolutely nowhere. What’s this sassy dynamic between Anna and the buxom architect Captain Prissypants has hired to renovate their new home? Doesn’t matter! They don’t spend any time there anyway and she only has one other scene in which you can’t even hear her talking! Anna’s been promoted and has a hot new author to establish? Don’t get attached to that idea; it ain’t coming back! Freed is so easy-going, you won’t even mind that there isn’t a point to 90% of it.
Come act three and a really shitty kidnapping plot rears its head, seemingly so that the series can reach some sort of dramatic crescendo. It is absolutely the worst thing about this movie. It’s far too late into this soapy gubbins for Foley to drum up any sense of genuine threat or suspense, and so this entire episode feels like a feeble interruption. We were having a nice time when this flick was about absolutely nothing!
Freed doesn’t feel like the closing act of a trilogy (I’m actually amazed that the material presented here filled a book by itself). E L James has busied herself writing further books that supposedly reveal more of the life and history of Captain Prissypants. Whether they’ll see the light of day as movies remains to be seen. Dornan has stated he’s done with the character – something which has appeared to be the case since the second movie. And Johnson? She’s proven herself ready to go on to far better things with the likes of A Bigger Splash. The rest of us can get a couple of good giggles out of scenes like the one in which Captain Prissypants looks for Anna in the fridge, or the time Anna spends the night on the sofa in the red room, despite there being a huge empty bed right there.
Such sprinklings of silliness help make this experience effectively painless, ironically.