Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) come back together after their split, as she starts to find who she is and he tries to be less controlling. However, new obstacles in the shape of other suitors and ghosts from the past will try to keep them apart.
The first 50 Shades movie was so easy to smack around. Because it was based on a book with all the literary quality of a takeaway menu it was easily dismissed, but there was some wit to it as an adaptation. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel kept an eyebrow cocked throughout, acknowledging, but not mocking, the giggling shock one might naturally experience when a new boyfriend earnestly asks if he might take a cat-o-nine-tails to their nethers. And that S&M contract negotiation was one of the best rom-com scenes in ages. The sequel has lost Taylor-Johnson and Marcel and with them has gone any subtlety and much of the style.
The sequel, directed by James Foley and written by Niall Leonard (husband of the book's author E.L. James) is more slap, less tickle. Its storytelling is blunter, with some absurd twists and turns that are laughably conceived and executed (a lot of people are dangerously obsessed with this pair). Christian and Anastasia's relationship continues as a series of amusingly flirty dates, break-ups over Christian's intractability and then some My First S&M to make-up. It too often repeats that same cycle, which was really the entire plot of the first film. Like the first, it’s still oddly unsexy for something so determined to be racy and coy about the book's USP, kinky sex. It ventures no further that smacked bum cheeks and a bit of handcuffing. Fine, but it does make Christian's stated sadism seem less than a significant problem.
Dakota Johnson continues to provide all of the spark between the couple. It must be a choice on Dornan’s part to play Christian as a brick wall, given he’s performed the same way for two directors and is more charismatic in other projects. It’s a choice that the makes it hard to see Christian as irresistible, for all his genetic good qualities. That’s a major issue since the driving force of the trilogy is supposed to be that these two are made for each other, if they can just find a way to fit. Johnson’s Anastasia is better than the man she loves, and Johnson is better than this overstretched melodrama.
It’s glossy and at times goofily funny, mostly thanks to Johnson’s subtle comic skills, but the novelty of this messy relationship is really beginning to wear off.