The Fifty Shades book series by E.L. James never personally struck a chord despite its global appeal. So when I got the opportunity to review Fifty Shades Freed, the climactic chapter of the noteworthy series, I did my due-diligence and watched the first two as the lead up to the finale. I’d been warned that poor chemistry between the leads and bad sex made for relentlessly boring films. Strangely, I found the initial two films to be well shot and impressively directed. Though the sex scenes are boringly vanilla, leads Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash) and Jamie Dornan (AnthropoId) are incredibly fun to watch as they jockey for position domestically or otherwise. It became vividly clear why Fifty Shades sells so many tickets: it’s beautiful, irresponsible, rich people behaving badly with the occasional quickly resolved bit of high drama thrown in as a vapid attempt to up the ante. In short, it’s trashy romance on the big screen. Fifty Shades Freed, with James Foley returning to direct and Niall Leonard adapting, does more of the same, so audiences will get exactly what they’ve come to expect: fighting, fornicating, and a false facsimile of devotion.
Anastasia Steele (Johnson) and Christian Grey (Dornan) have come a long way since their initial meeting. They’ve battled personal demons and overcome their differences, leading them to commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives in matrimony. Believing the worst behind them, they look to the future as they embark on a honeymoon filled with all the wonder and majesty that a wealthy couple in love can handle. Unfortunately, their celebration is cut short when an explosion within Grey Enterprises brings them home as they try to uncover why this happened and who’s behind it.
Let’s get something straight from the jump – the films are fun. Johnson and Dornan are delightful as the oh-so-in-love couple. Their chemistry, and, more importantly, the chemistry of their characters is entirely believable. Leonard’s script wisely includes several small moments which serve as cute call-backs to the previous films that feel like honest-to-goodness things that couples who’ve spent time together would say. It makes Anastasia and Christian much more charming and easy to root for. Except – and here’s one large issue – Fifty Shades Freed makes it abundantly clear that these are two people that have no business being in a long-term committed relationship with each other. She’s tenacious about the things that matter, yet is easily willing to acquiesce to his demands because she believes in romantic love as a cure-all. He’s an emotionally troubled sadist (see: Fifty Shades Darker) who chooses Anastasia because she looks like his mom, demands all of her attention always, and views her as an object to possess. But they’re so gosh darn pretty, y’all. It’s one thing to believe in love and to fight for the ones you care for, but zero time is spent seeing these two (a) actually work on some real emotional healing and (b) in a realistic domestic way. Sure Christian allows her to sleep in his bed and touch his no-go areas, but there’s some deep-seeded issues that the narrative continuously ignores.
This weakness falls mainly on the script, which, while it does a great job of keeping things moving at a fast clip from event to sex scene to moment to sex scene to conversation….you get the idea….it doesn’t function in reality in any way, shape, or form. When the attack on Gray Enterprises occurs, Christian places security on every member of his family. This is a wise move, yet there’s no mention of police involvement. This confusion is compounded when, later, Anastasia undergoes a kidnapping attempt and not a single person tries to connect the kidnapper to the explosion. Somehow, the catalyst for all the events in this film is largely forgotten. Moments like these severely undercut claims from the story that our leads are intelligent, capable individuals because they just seem willing to chuck out potential evidence time and again. Though it’s easy to explain the main characters’ lack of focus as them being caught up in the emotions of traumatic events, what is the explanation for Christian’s highly-skilled security team being so weak-ass at their jobs that they can’t make the connection either. We’ve witnessed the lengths Christian can go to to find where Anastasia works or the location of the unknown dive bar she’s drunk in (see: Fifty Shades of Grey), and even the time and place of the art gallery showing she’s attending (see: Fifty Shades Darker), but somehow they goof on this? I call shenanigans.
Of course, many of the issues with the Fifty Shades film series could be attributed to the book adaptation process. Perhaps valuable details were left out to keep the run-time short or because they just couldn’t be conveyed properly. This is, at its core, one of the difficulties with any adaptation – deciding how best to present the material faithfully. Maybe the books do a bang-up job telling the tale of two lovers who overcome incredible odds. Maybe they demonstrate some real healing for Christian and honest love from Anastasia. Maybe, and this one might be the biggest thing to hope for, the books actually show Christian and Anastasia working because, for two supposedly successful people, they don’t seem to do any actual work.
All nonsensical plot and character issues aside, Fifty Shades Freed is going to be exactly what fans of the series expect: beautiful scenery, quippy banter, frequent sex, and a tiny bit of danger. So if you’re in the mood for silly fun in the form of trashy romance, then you’re in for a ride. Frankly, expecting anything else – especially in a final outing – would be ludicrous.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.