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Ana Steele Warms up to BDSM in 'Fifty Shades Darker' but Christian Grey is Still a Pain
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Ana Steele Warms up to BDSM in 'Fifty Shades Darker' but Christian Grey is Still a Pain

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 22 February 2017
Our hero and heroine try to merge their conflicting values in the second Fifty Shades film. And do they exchange bodily fluids, too? Not so much.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) have their best sex yet in Fifty Shades Darker, the second film adapted from author E.L. James’s phenomenally successful chick-lit trilogy. They accomplish this because Ana, turned off by Christian’s cruel streak in Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), has learned to get her BDSM groove on. Well, BDSM-lite, anyway.

Ana twice lets Christian strap her ankles into the cuffs of a steel spreader bar, jerk her legs apart, and take her from the front, and then flip her over and take her from behind.

Having accepted his insincere assurance that he would agree to a diet of vanilla sex when they resumed their relationship at the start of the movie, she has come around to coming the Grey way. She’s into it, too, though one suspects sub/dom role-play isn’t a driving need for her as it is for Christian, a self-confessed sadist. He introduces her to the spreader-bar ritual as if it were one of the material gifts he gives her as he campaigns to win her–but it’s she who’s doing the giving.

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Ecstasy: Dakota Johnson as Ana | © Universal Pictures

Christian purports to love her. But as a a world-class narcissist and power freak, he’s still incapable of intimacy or giving Ana the unfettered passion she needs as the protagonist of a saga that, despite its mildly transgressive soft-core aura, is as conservative as 1986’s 9 1/2 Weeks. There’s not the remotest suggestion that Ana has any sexual independence or agency.

Though director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) and screenwriter Niall Leonard may think they’re merged Ana and Christian’s clashing values, Fifty Shades Darker is derailed as a love story by Dornan’s unyielding performance. Whereas Johnson allows Ana to shrug off her naivety and grow into a likeable, sexy woman who’s up for a spot of S&M—”kinky fuckery,” she endearingly calls it—Christian attacks romance with the same joyless determination he brings to business and copulation.

When he inserts a pair of silver balls inside Ana’s vagina to enhance her pleasure (or at least his) at a masked ball, he does it with all the sexiness of a scientist injecting mice with a virus. Even his sister (played by singer Rita Ora) admits he hasn’t got a sense of humor.

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No rules, no underwear: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan | © Universal Pictures

He does have some lube, though, and generously pours it over Ana’s breasts in the buildup to their Holy Grail moment. (The boy’s discovered foreplay!) Yet this only emphasizes that Fifty Shades Darker ought to have been fifty shades dirtier. Sex between Ana and Christian may involve leather restraints and cold metal, but it’s cosmeticized, deodorized, pristine. Theirs is a bedroom devoid of secretions, apparent muskiness, or even ripped condom wrappers. The movie is not simply unreal, it’s a fantasy of a fantasy—and, as such, a craven stab at erotica.

Fans of the books and the first movie will nonetheless relish it as a tame contemporary bodice-ripper flick. Others can savor it as a satirical critique of the co-opting of BDSM by the conspicuous consumerism embodied by its billionaire Alpha male hero. Packed with absurdities—Ana replaces the smooth fiction editor boss who sexually harasses her, one of Christian’s ex-sex slaves stalks Ana with a gun, his helicopter spirals out of control—the movie morphs into an hilarious ultra-kitsch melodrama of Showgirls proportions.

The moment when Christian’s stepmom (Marcia Gay Harden) slaps the woman who schooled Christian in perversion would grace a telenovela. That this Wicked Queen, name of Elena, is played by Kim Basinger suggests she’s really 9 1/2 Weeks‘ Elizabeth, and that she’s still smarting from the lashes of Mickey Rourke’s riding crop. Expect Ana to emerge unscathed from next year’s Fifty Shades Freed, also directed by Foley.

Read Culture Trip’s Nikki Vargas on How ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Got BDSM Completely Wrong