Bil’s rating (out of 5): B. USA, 2018. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Niall Leonard, based on the novel by E.L. James. Cinematography by John Schwartzman. Produced by Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, E.L. James, Marcus Viscidi. Music by Danny Elfman. Production Design by Nelson Coates. Costume Design by Shay Cunliffe. Film Editing by David S. Clark, Richard Francis-Bruce, Debra Neil-Fisher.
We all know a marriage is in trouble when someone finally gets around to using their safe word. The actually pornographic element to this ridiculous series of movies has been selling a fantasy of a young person’s upward mobility with only the slightest bit of conflict to keep the whole thing from being drinks, dinners and spanking (her ex-boss is stalking her, but are we ever actually worried that he’s going to do anything other than give her husband a different reason to have such a grumpy look on his face?) Now that they’ve gotten married and are fully legit, Anna (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) are settling into the mundane realities of marriage (rebuilding a new mansion, deciding which helicopter to take to work, etc) but their bliss is being ruined by a stranger who keeps breaking into their many houses and leaving threatening clues behind. Christian is worried about Anna’s safety and insists she fly with him wherever he goes, but she makes it clear that, even if anyone in real life would be happy to marry rich and quit the daily grind, her job is important and she needs to be a role model for the kind of audience who want to date a guy who has designated a pair of jeans for when he has kinky sex (let’s just be glad he pays someone to do his laundry and that way it gets done). As to the actual work these two do, it remains mostly a mystery: we get to see her approve a jacket cover, which isn’t exactly the cerulian blue speech from Devil Wears Prada, while Gray’s control over the world of corporate finance continues to be as indiscernible as his last name. Then, of course, there are the intimate moments of lovemaking, which claim to be an exploration of BDSM but are mostly just the chance for women to melt over a guy braiding his girlfriend’s hair without being forced. What usually makes kinky sex fun to explore is an element of risk and vulnerability, none of which are possible in this movie where every scene involving toys and whips is bolstered by two people constantly reminding each other how emotionally connected they are. At this point this series doesn’t even feel like it’s trying to be about anything other than selling clothes and brands of liquor, while plots that remain from the previous films are not closed to satisfaction and the personalities of the characters (such as they are) are never fully explained: it seemed like Christian was going to be a mystery that Anna would solve by the last entry (no pun intended), but his attitude towards her is still cloudy despite us finding out everything about his wounded chest and Kim Basinger in the previous adventure. It appears we’re just going to have to put up with him being rich and emotionally unavailable to the end of time (which, by the way, is the cornerstone of many a wedding I have attended). None of these films are good, but as guilty pleasures go the second one is the best at satisfying whatever request you may have of it.