Audiences finally freed from ‘Fifty Shades’ franchise

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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Grade: 1.0/5.0

Let’s be honest: Expectations for “Fifty Shades Freed” were pretty low after the train wrecks that were the previous two installments. Yet the film still managed, somehow, to disappoint.

Succeeding “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades Darker,” the film serves as the conclusion of the trilogy based on E. L. James’ best-selling novels. As did the preceding movies, “Fifty Shades Freed” suffers from poor acting, a general lack of cohesion and the absence of a mildly interesting plot, cementing the series as cinema’s most uneventful blockbuster franchise.

The film picks up right where “Fifty Shades Darker” leaves off, opening on Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) on their wedding day reciting rather bland vows with an all-too-familiar nonexistent chemistry. Their bliss is quickly ended by the reappearance of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s vindictive former boss who has been inexplicably capable of bypassing all of Christian’s security, time and time again.  

They each take their time getting adjusted to married life — Ana jumps back into her job as an editor, where she irrelevantly struggles to remain her own person rather than Mrs. Grey. Her interactions with her two assistants feel awkward and contrived, whether it’s with the passive-aggressive and jaded Liz (Amy Price-Francis) or the young, overenthusiastic Hannah (Ashleigh LaThrop). In fact, none of the supporting characters — Ana’s friends, Christian’s siblings — are given enough time to develop into people we care about. Accordingly, each scene and each subplot involving them becomes painfully tedious.

Even Jack, the main antagonist, only has a tenuous connection to the film’s themes or the main characters’ development. Jack’s motivations are as unclear as his ability to bypass Christian’s million-dollar security system. He’s a token villain, solely written into the film because there’s not enough material to draw from Christian and Ana’s lives for a whole movie. The halfhearted attempts at diving into Jack’s background fail to elicit any sympathy.

Worse yet, the paltry character development Christian and Ana receive from the previous two films is largely thrown away as the damaged and sadistic Christian suddenly becomes a doting husband. Apart from a slip or two, we’re made to believe that the Christian we’re familiar with, who is haunted by childhood trauma at the hands of his birth mother, has disappeared and been replaced by a man whose love for Ana is so great that he is able to transform into a tea-making, serenading (yes, serenading) sweetheart.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

And his controlling side? Well, the film brushes it aside, as he’s apparently merely protective at heart. True love cures all. And in the era of #MeToo, this romanticizes a problematic power dynamic that undermines what a clear picture of consent looks like by normalizing situations that we as an audience should be uncomfortable with — notably, a moment when sex is used almost as a punishment.

On the bright side, John Schwartzman’s cinematography is passable throughout the film, even if it is sullied by product placement. Early on, shortly after Christian and Ana visit a location for their new home, the story is interrupted by what can be best described as an Audi commercial. Like most scenes in the film, this extended car chase, featuring multiple close-ups of the Audi logo, does little to advance the story but works great as a product demo.

The film lacks any thread of cohesion or unity. It’s as if director James Foley took a checklist of elements to include — sex, plot and nostalgic closing montage — and strung them one after the other with nothing to tie them together. While many might have seen “Fifty Shades of Grey” out of curiosity, after two entire movies of sex scenes choreographed to pop music beats, even the gratuitous sex scenes have lost all their glamour. It’s sex without an ounce of sensuality — sex for the sake of sex — which has simply become boring.

Aggressively marketed with a clever but cringe-inducing pun “Don’t miss the climax,” “Fifty Shades Freed” doesn’t even live up to its marketing campaign. Just as in the previous two films, right as you’re expecting the second half to deliver the big punches, the film finishes, and you’re left wholly unsatisfied. Talk about missing climaxes.

“Fifty Shades Freed” is currently playing at UA Berkeley 7.

Contact Lynn Zhou at [email protected].