Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini
Directed By: James Foley
Plot: Anastasia (Johnson) and Christian (Dornan) are separated at the beginning of the film. It takes no time for them to realize they can’t be apart, and they work out a new “contract”. Christian loves her enough to change his past ways. There’s also a jealous boss (Johnson) and a jealous ex (Basinger) thrown into the mix. And they still can’t figure out what to do with Jose (Rasuk), but keep including him because he’s in the book.
What Works: In a devastating blow to female directors everywhere, I have to declare that James Foley has done the impossible. This sequel is actually better than the original. SHOCKING. I was shocked. Honestly. I assumed this film would be like the Transformers franchise where each one seems to get progressively worse, but instead they listened to critics and fans, and this film is indeed marginally better than the first film. I’m not saying this is a good film you should watch, however I’m willing to call it a “watchable” film. I don’t believe the first film was watchable. Bad acting, bad script, no plot, thin characters… this film tries really hard to rectify those points. What we ended up getting is a rather average Lifetime movie, instead of a poor Skinemax film. This film is still bogged down by the unnecessary amount of sex, which happens five or six times in the film, and always slows down the films rather traditional plot progression and character development. This film dives more into the psyche of Christian Grey, attempting to make him a more well rounded character. It also gives Anastasia more to do, which rounds out her character a bit more nicely. We see her having actual thoughts about things at work. There was also this rather brilliant moment which sealed the whole deal for me. Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia. She’s the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (for those who don’t know). There’s a scene where Ana is promoted rather suddenly from being an assistant to being a boss, and her old friend who is still an assistant asks her if she’s supposed to call her Ms Steele now, and Ana responds. “No, you can still call me Ana. And I don’t expect you to fetch me coffee, unless you’re getting some for yourself. Everything else we’ll just figure out as we go along.” That might seem like a small thing to you, but for me it was a brilliant nod to Griffith’s Working Girl, lifting a line of dialogue from that film and letting her daughter deliver it. Well played. Also, for what it’s worth, I thought Dornan and Johnson had better chemistry in this film, despite reports that they can’t stand each other.
What Doesn’t Work: As I said already, this film still has a sex problem, where it stops and starts the whole film so we can have a softcore porn sex scene. I’m not a prude, there’s just something about the way these scenes are shot that actually reminds me of softcore porn films. Even the soundtrack at times feels very porn-y. This film still has no idea what to do with most of its supporting cast, relegating them to plot devices, or just propping them up in a scene or two with no real stakes. Johnson’s villainous Jack Hyde goes from a soft character to a full blown dick so fast it’ll make your head spin. He has no development. He just is what the film needs him to be in the scene. I’m not sure why Kim Basinger is in this film… or Marcia Gay Harden for that reason. Both of these actresses are far better than their roles, and they deserve at bare minimum better writing for agreeing to be in the films in the first place. There’s also a helicopter crash that seems utterly pointless because it goes nowhere. The film doesn’t change at all because of it. Both the crash, and the gunshot scene from the trailer work as Macguffins, in that they were used to entice the audience into thinking there was more action and excitement in this film, but the film itself throws both scenes into the trash, quickly moving through them, and forgetting about them afterward. There are no real consequences here as a result of either of those scenes.
Final Word: So yeah, it’s still not a good film, but I’m definitely willing to admit that this film is better than the original, and more watchable. It’s still not something I’d recommend, unless you’re a fan of the books. However, if you are a fan, and you hesitated on seeing the sequel because you didn’t like the first film… all I can offer you is that I didn’t hate myself for having seen the sequel. And i honestly thought this film would be complete and total garbage. It’s not.
Final Grade: C-