Now married, Anastasia (Johnson) and Christian Grey (Dornan) see their honeymoon interrupted by the return of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who is out for payback on Anastasia for losing him his job. The happy couple’s BDSMarital bliss is also threatened by the subject of kids.
Ironically for a film about pushing the boundaries of sexual pleasure, there has always been the sense that the Fifty Shades franchise has played it too safe. Never celebrating the kitsch like one of those ‘90s DTV erotic thrillers with titles like Lethally Blonde, or taking it seriously as a full-on dive into erotic obsession, the results have been tame, mostly poor affairs, not bad enough to be guilty pleasures or good enough to be, well, good. Fifty Shades Freed, the last in E.L. James’ trilogy, sadly continues in that vein. Adapted by James’ husband Niall Leonard,Fifty Shades Freed doesn’t have a story as such. Instead it strings together a series of vignettes comprising different kinds of porn. Of course, there is the BDSM (we get handcuffs on ankles, sex toy teasing, 9½ Weeks style shenanigans with ice cream, almost exclusively played out to slowed down versions of a retro hit) but more often we get wedding porn, fast car porn, big house porn, workplace porn (Anastasia’s publishing house office is ridiculous) etc. Like the previous films, it’s a hymn to lifestyles without any sense of real interior lives behind them.
The first movie had an arc for Anastasia to go on, from virginal student to sexually awakened paramour, but there is no such luck here. The slivers of plot revolve around the return of Ana’s former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson, terrible), the creep from Fifty Shades Darker, who is hell-bent on destroying Ana’s life after she caused him to lose his job. As revenge plots go, it is a slow, dull burn that goes apeshit in the last reel in ways that feel forced. Other story drivers include Christian’s controlling nature, disagreements over having children, an architect (Arielle Kebbel) who turns heads and more revelations about Christian’s past but none of them add up to anything.
While Sam Taylor-Johnson gave the first film a hint of a raised eyebrow, Foley shoots everything with an earnest, technically impressive sheen — if you ever need someone to photograph your dildo drawer, he’s your man — but never anchors it to any meaning. Dornan struggles through it, by turns mortified and befuddled: he is even made to warble through Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ to borderline laughable effect.
If there has been one bright spark in this franchise it is Johnson. She manages to breathe life and attitude into Ana in ways that aren’t on the page. But not even she can surmount the risible thriller antics of the final act. Like Kristen Stewart, another refugee from a popular if derided franchise, she needs material and filmmakers to match her talent. She needs to say goodbye to the safe words.