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I think I know what you are thinking. After all, I thought it once too. I saw the trailers for “50 Shades Darker.” I saw the Rotten Tomatoes score. Without watching the film, I could have written the reviews. I would have bet that you could too. I imagine you expect comments like: “This film is acted by disinterested people who don’t like each other and seem embarrassed to be in the movie,” or “The story is so excruciating, shoddy, and ill-informed about sex that it seems like it was written by a 13-year-old on Adderall right after watching some BDSM videos on YouPorn” or “The only justification for this film being produced is that it is a bizarre experimental attempt to make the least titillating movie with filmed sex in it of all-time.” Comments like those. You won’t find any comments like those in this review. If my review does nothing else, I hope it dispels you of the assumption that this is a boring, listless, and almost unwatchable dreary film not worth anyone’s time, as that could not be more wrong. “50 Shades Darker” is the best film of the 21st, and possibly of any, century.
Despite the effusiveness of that last statement, I cannot recommend this film. Like staring directly into the sun, there are dire consequences for watching this film. Once the rash of spontaneous orgasms had ceased and the pain in my testicles had subsided (days after watching the film, mind you,) I realized that I no longer saw reality the same way. Yet this being Year One, ACGAS (After Christian Grey/Anastasia Steele,) I can’t say I am enjoying it. My nerve endings seemingly seared off, I am stuck enduring with the knowledge that I will never again have an experience as visceral and profound as the film I watched. How could I? Seeing the impossibly sweltering romance of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele let me vicariously experience an emotional and erotic connection that I previously could not have conceived of. What experience can match that?
The film begins innocuously enough. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) have broken up and are living apart. This was supposedly sad, but I confess that I didn’t see what the big deal was at the time. The sex they were having couldn’t have been “that” good. Little did I know that I was just watching the wick burn down on a stick of sexual dynamite. In little more than five minutes, that dynamite went off and I was consumed by the torrid mushroom cloud of the magical splendor of their togetherness. After an art show in which Anastasia is the chief subject, Christian shows up and buys all of her portraits, convinces her to go to dinner with him. They never make it to dinner 😉 and my life would never be the same.
Here is where I kind of lost the thread, so enthralled with their romance that I couldn’t follow the plot. It was like a sexy atom bomb went off inside my brain. I could not see anything other than their shockingly real connection to each other. Honestly, with a love this blistering, who can bother to pay attention to a rapey book publisher or a jealous ex-girlfriend? Anything or anyone attempting to impede their love is incinerated by the flames of their desires. Getting to spend some time in the corona in this nuclear-fusion star of a relationship is a greater gift than one should ever expect from the cinema. When Kim Basinger, Eric Johnson, and Bella Heathcoate and some other people showed-up and vomited out some dialogue, I only paid them enough heed to resent that the actors had the privilege of being in the white-hot ground-zero of Dakota and Jamie’s explosive chemistry when it was filmed.
So electric and sincere is the passion which these characters seem to have for each other that I was shocked to find out that Dakota and Jamie are not together off-screen. I did not think such a ferocious love could be faked, but there you have it. I also want to praise them for the nuance and subtlety with which they imbued these characters, despite seeming to be subsumed by an unimaginable lust for each other. For example, it would be easy to assume that Anastasia’s interest in Christian was primarily to do with his good-looks, the billions he makes from his nebulous business venture, and her desire to cure a man of his mental hang-ups via her love. Perhaps we might have thought that Christian’s attraction to Anastasia was merely the product of some weird Oedipal attraction. Instead, we see that none of that stuff matters even slightly. It is solely true love which fuels their attraction. Nothing else.
As I conclude this review, I find myself full of lament. It is an experience which I will treasure and resent for the rest of my life. I wish I could recommend this experience, but I can’t. I just want to give you the facts. “50 Shades Darker” is MDMA for your soul. So brightly does the love of Christian and Anastasia burn that when you come down from the film, reality looks muted. You are stuck with the knowledge that you will never experience a love that wondrous and beautiful. Whatever else you take away from this review and whether you watch this film, just know that it isn’t some of the longest 131 minutes you can spend watching a movie. That wouldn’t be accurate at all.
The absolute best thing that can be said about this film is that going in with rock bottom expectations, I was floored by its mediocrity. Everything in this film is decidedly average. The action sequences are sufficiently ridiculous and comprehensible, if a little underwhelming, the narrative is coherent and vaguely plausible, if completely ridiculous, and the actors do just enough to make the material passable, if not quite giving enough to make it compelling. It is the prototype for a proficient, but unremarkable genre picture.
Calling this a “Die Hard” film is a bit like hiring an escort and calling them your spouse. It is a lot more accurate to say this action film is renting the services of John McClane then it has any sort of serious relationship with him. Though if McClane (Bruce Willis) brings anything to the film, it is his status as a notorious Luddite. In 1988 he was already complaining about technology and the techno-paranoia plot gives him plenty of chances to make snide comments about computers and new age gadgets, while using his old-school police guy problem-solving skills to save the day.
At the heart of the evil plot is Thomas Gabriel. Played by Timothy Olyphant, whose performance here like most things in the film is serviceable but unexceptional, Gabriel commits a series cyber crimes of the kind one typically sees in films: Hacking into traffic controls to create accidents, messing around with the stock market, and broadcasting ominous messages on national television. All this is part of a master plan to steal basically all financial information for the entire United States, which as a former member of the FBI is intended to establish just how vulnerable U.S. cyber security is.
This ostensibly being a Die Hard film, John McClane is given a helpful sidekick to offer a little bit of a foil to his hard-nosed policing. That sidekicking takes the form of a pluckily nebbish hacker named Matt Farrell. Played by Justin Long, Farrell spends the first half of the film desperately playing for laughs that are simply not there, before transforming in the second, offering up his computer skills to assist McClane’s counter terrorist effort and generally being uncommonly brave.
The John McClane of “Die Hard” has long since sold out to the gods of action movies. These days, he is just a tough cop getting rid of bad guys. Gone is any trace of the man that experiences fear, gets tired, or wrestles with personal mistakes. Why be afraid when you know the laws of physics will bend so that you can handle any situation that may arise? Why get tired when it can be written out of a script? Why deal with personal problems when they can be resolved through action? Only rarely do tiny splotches of the old McClane appear and even those are more like watered-down references to a once-great character. John McClane used to be an ordinary cop doing something extraordinary. Now he is an extraordinary cop doing something ordinary.
This film is perfectly content with setting low standards for itself and meeting them. It washes itself in the dreary blue and gray color palette of most modern action films, doing little to distinguish itself from the droves of other films of the same ilk. Its cyber-terrorism motif is rife with potentially interesting commentary or ideas, but the film manages to do no more with it then to suggest that traditional police heroics will still be around to protect us. All told this film does very little to warrant either condemnation or praise, both as an action film and as a “Die Hard” film. It is at peace with its averageness, which, when you are expecting something in the range of mildly unpleasant to outright painful is more than one could reasonably hope for, even if one should hope for more.
1. Die Hard
2. Die Hard with a Vengeance
3. Live Free or Die Hard
4. Die Hard 2: Die Harder