Film Review: ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ Brings the Torture to a Climax

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Like an inattentive lover thrusting away ineffectively, this franchise has finally finished, despite its audience being done a long time ago. “Fifty Shades Freed” so misunderstands us as its partner, neglecting even the most basic of needs. Easily the worst film in the series, as well as of 2018 so far, it’s absolute dreck. The trilogy has always been a misfire, erotic films lacking in any eroticism. Essentially, it’s pretending to be sexually adventurous and kinky, while containing almost all coitus to missionary style and vaguely gentle. In this series capper, however, it ends up peddling even more traditional values than usual. Exotic, this is not.

“Fifty Shades Freed” is complete fan service, slavishly so. Sadly, the fans seem not to care that the romance is completely forced, the sex is way less deviant than the creators like to think, and the added thriller elements of late are laughably bad. In my review of “Fifty Shades of Grey” three years ago (there wasn’t a review of “Fifty Shades Darker,” but it’s even worse), this bit was included: “It’s not good drama, it’s not good romance, and it’s not even good porn.” That remains true here this time around, and triply so.

Does plot matter here? Well, oddly, the film thinks that it does, despite the franchise clearly not caring previously. Bizarrely though, we begin with the marriage of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), but it’s given barely any screen time, with a chunk of it taking place during the opening credits. From there, it’s a montage filled honeymoon, one that’s cut short due to the continued menacing of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Spurned by Anastasia and his life ruined by Christian, Jack is planning revenge.

Now married, Anastasia and Christian continue to be a terrible match, constantly doing things they know the other won’t like. Neither one has actually learned anything during this trilogy, so it takes plot machinations to make things happen. Here, characters are kidnapped, threatened, proposed to, and impregnated, but it’s all very stagnant. The one constant through all these films has been that this is all supposed to be empowering to women, and yet Anastasia is almost always reliant on Christian to save the day. Alas.

Again, Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have absolutely no chemistry with each other. The former continues to seem more like a serial killer than a billionaire. As for the latter, she remains too good for the material. Dornan and Johnson appear less like newlyweds than a bored married couple, considering how transactional their conversations appear. They have a decent amount of sex (though less here than usual) but it never feels organic. It’s always a story beat, in place of actually having the characters do or say anything interesting. When in doubt, take her clothes off.

The franchise has never cared about its characters, give or take the two leads, so the supporting cast is a cavalcade of wasted players. Everyone gets even less to do here this time around, so fans of Bruce Altman, Jennifer Ehle (blink and you’ll miss her), Marcia Gay Harden, Luke Grimes, Max Martini, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, or Victor Rasuk are out of luck. Newcomers include Brant Daugherty, Tyler Hoechlin, and Arielle Kebbel, but don’t expect much there either. The one exception is the aforementioned Eric Johnson, who now becomes a cartoonish villain. Sure, why not?

James Foley was always a hired gun here, but that doesn’t excuse anything. His direction takes all the worst qualities from Sam Taylor-Johnson‘s first outing and forgets the few good ones. Again, the nudity is all female, which is bizarre considering how female-centric the presumed audience is. This is all done with a straight face too, so the comedy is completely unintentional (one constant, as an aside, is that the press screenings have always had howling laughter in them). Foley is a competent director, but nothing here suggests that. More shots focus on the product placement than on anything interesting, while the sex scenes find the camera studiously avoiding anything that might be seen as even remotely sexy.

Scribe Niall Leonard took over for Kelly Marcel after the first one and basically is doing the bidding of E.L. James here. As such, the script takes itself very seriously, believing in this love, even if no one else does. There’s one chuckle-worthy line where restraints are misunderstood, but that’s a mirage in a scorching desert of crap. The law of diminishing returns almost always applies to franchises, but this one suffers especially badly.

Only one scene manages to rise above the mess, and that’s a short sequence involving ice cream. To be clear, it’s still not a good scene, but there’s some playfulness that helps mask the complete lack of chemistry between Dornan and Johnson. There’s also a solid enough soundtrack, long a hallmark of the franchise. Beyond that, there’s nothing, and the wreckage extends even to the behind the scenes masters, like composer Danny Elfman and cinematographer John Schwartzman. Nobody emerges unscathed from this wreck.

The final indignity is that the film begins to wrap up with a montage of all three outings so far, cherrypicking random moments that don’t really fit together or make sense. Worse still, they include a number of shots from the current movie itself, some of which are within their own montage during the beginning. The mind reels.

At long last, we’ve been freed from this indignity. “Fifty Shades Freed” ends a trilogy that began with hopes of potentially bringing back erotism to mainstream cinema. Instead, it’s just another effortless attempt to cash in on a popular series of books. Do yourself a favor and avoid this one. Finding your own satisfaction independent of “Fifty Shades Freed” is a necessary measure with a partner this terrible.

“Fifty Shades Freed” is distributed by Universal Pictures and opens in theaters on February 9

GRADE: (★)