Review: Clunky kink of ‘50 Shades Freed’ is torture
Enough already! Worst chapter in the lifeless franchise will have audiences shouting their safe word
Freed at last.
With the arrival of the lifeless final chapter in the insipid “Fifty Shades” trilogy — oh please don’t go rogue from the source material and let there be a fourth one — we are finally freed from this hollow series, built on nothing but light kink and the ho-hum thrill of Hollywood nudity. And stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are free to leave this series behind them and go do something more interesting, which at this point would mean taking literally any other role. (Animal voices in “The Secret Lives of Pets 2?” That would count!)
“Fifty Shades Freed” is the worst of the three movies in the series which, if you saw the other two (both of which earned $100 million-plus at the North American box office), you know is really saying something. Three movies together and there still isn’t a single spark in the relationship between naive young book editor Anastasia Steele (Johnson) and her billionaire playboy boyfriend Christian Grey (Dornan), who together have all the chemistry of a mop and a piece of sandpaper. We know there will be a few visits to his red room pleasure palace, which is outfitted like a Crate & Barrel sex dungeon, but without that promise, this couple — this whole series — would have never made it past the first date.
In the opening of “Fifty Shades Freed,” Ana and Christian are at the altar saying their vows — oh great, we don’t even get to see her plan their wedding? (Seeing them argue over hiring a band or a DJ might have actually been interesting.) So now they’re married — fitting for this couple, their wedding looks boring — and honeymoon-bound, and Christian whisks her to his private jet. “We own this?” she asks. Apparently the fact that Christian owns a private jet has never once come up in conversation.
That’s not the only thing the newlyweds have never discussed. Over dinner, having children is brought up, apparently for the first time. “You do want to have kids one day, right?” Ana asks her man, who becomes prickly and standoffish. “One day,” he answers, “not now.” And suddenly you realize these lovebirds — again, who we’ve spent three movies getting to know! — have seemingly never had a conversation that wasn’t a prelude to some light bondage session. (And if you think the kids talk is just thrown in there like most things in this movie, it’s actually one of the few plot threads that’s not left dangling.)
In addition, Christian remains insanely controlling of his wife, tightening the leash on her metaphorically when he’s not doing so physically. He gets jealous when she spends time with her friends (the nerve!) and barges in on her at work, questioning why she hasn’t immediately changed her email address to reflect her new last name. These are all red flags to anyone, in any relationship. How these two have gotten this far is a mystery no Sia-soundtracked montage can explain away. Christian’s only plus is his obscene wealth, and Ana is easily wooed by his fancy planes, cool cars and weekend getaways to Aspen or France. It all must make for lovely Instagrams.
Even though the obvious issues between Ana and Christian are more than enough to fill a plot — “Fifty Shades: Sharing and Caring,” anyone? — “Fifty Shades Freed” gets caught up in a wholly suspense-less sideplot, involving Ana’s former boss, Jack (Eric Johnson), and his stalking of the happy couple. At one point the movie briefly morphs into “50 Shades of Fast and Furious,” with Ana in the Dom Toretto role, evading Jack through traffic in Seattle in their super fancy, obviously product-placed Audi. When chase scenes become sex scenes, choose Audi.
Respected director James Foley (he made “Glengarry Glen Ross,” for Pete’s sake) is tasked with making something of this unholy mess, adapted by Niall Leonard from E.L. Fudge’s (er, E.J. James’) original text. But it’s hopeless. There are unintentional laughs in the plodding, clunky story, but the biggest laugh is the one this series has had on the audience for three movies.
Late in the going there’s a flashback sequence recapping the early days of Ana and Christian’s courtship, and what’s most surprising is the way the series has aged Dornan, who looks 10 years older than when it started. Yet there’s been no growth in his character, he’s still the same abusive manchild he was when it started. So it’s none too soon that we do something Ana should have done long ago and wave “Fifty Shades” goodbye. Laters baby, indeed.
‘Fifty Shades Freed’
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language
Running time: 120 minutes