Fifty Shades Darker isn’t exactly what you might call a good movie. The plot is laughable, the dialogue awkward, and the romance slightly disturbing. However, it’s not a bad movie either. What it is is fun. Yes, it’s so full of plot holes, you’ll have no idea whether or not it takes place over the course of four days or six months. But, what’s more surprising is that it doesn’t matter. Why wonder how long Ana and Christian have been trying their new, “vanilla” relationship before he asks her to move in with him when Christian’s helicopter falls out of the sky? Who cares if Ana isn’t remotely qualified for her job when she declares so passionately that she “loves working”? Intricacies of plot don’t matter in Fifty Shades Darker, what matters is the sex. Fifty Shades Darker is pure, magical fun from start to finish, especially for heterosexual female audiences who can forgive some emotional abusive tendencies. (I repeat: if you’re watching Fifty Shades Darker for the plot, you’re doing it wrong.)
Most romantic films made for female audiences choose not to make sex a key part of the film. Sex scenes in romantic comedies, for example, are dark, full of fades to black that act as censors, carefully placed sheets, and innocent shots of hands coming together. Sex scenes in male-oriented action films, however, are rough, fast, and often times compose of multiple shots of women’s breasts or female nudity without showing any male vulnerability whatsoever. The intent of both are clear. It’s either romance for the ladies, or sexual excitement for men. Fifty Shades Darker attempts to flip that script, and, for the most part, it succeeds. Fifty Shades Darker is a movie with sex scenes tailor-made for women. Not a sex scene goes by without Christian going down on Ana, and the scenes are all about her pleasure, not his, even when he’s in control. The sex scenes are consistently filmed for a female audience, except for one, very obvious oversight: male nudity. Director
James Foley does a good job keeping the R-rated sex scenes just R-rated enough to satisfy fans without dipping into NC-17 territory, but he could have risked a bit more male nudity. The extreme imbalance between the female nudity and male nudity in the film is impossible to ignore. Watching the many Fifty Shades Darker sex scenes, one can’t help but notice that Christian, as played by Jamie Dornan, almost always has his jeans on during intercourse (no D here, folks). He is quite literally never naked during the sex scenes. A few scenes tease the possibility of a nude Christian, but, alas, the most we really get to see is a good look at his bare abs and half of his ass. (You’d think a dominant would know to take his pants off during sex.)
Despite the unfortunate lack of male nudity, which goes along with the Hollywood standard of the male gaze, the sex scenes in Fifty Shades Darker bring something entirely new to on screen salaciousness: consent. Fifty Shades Darker features textbook examples of consent, even when Christian is in his dominant persona. The first time Ana and Christian have sex as a newly reunited couple, he literally tells her that they will “only do what you’re comfortable with.” During their kinkier escapades, she is almost always the one who initiates it — in one scene she specifically asks him to spank her, and in another she chooses a toy out of his red room of pain and demands to try it. It’s very clear who wears the pants in Ana and Christian’s relationship, and it sure as hell isn’t Christian Grey. If only some of that power translated to their relationship outside of the bedroom, Ana and Christian would be in a healthy relationship.
Outside of the bedroom, Ana is much more submissive, caving into Christian’s controlling demands too quickly and too often. However, while their relationship seems borderline mentally abusive, Ana remains the strongest character in the film. Granted, Ana’s strength comes not from the writing, which is about as ‘lol’ and cringe worthy as you’d expect, but from Dakota Johnson’s performance. Johnson was the stand out of Fifty Shades of Grey, and she continues to hold her title in Fifty Shades Darker. No matter how fantastical the scene or uncomfortable the sex scene, an expertly delivered line and well placed giggle from Johnson makes it relatable. Dornan tries to keep up, but he’s limited. Christian isn’t so much a character as he is a fantasy. That said, Dornan is given much more to work with in this film than he was in the first.
Christian’s character definitely benefits from having a male director. Fifty Shades Darker opens with Christian’s nightmare flashback of being abused as a child. We’re no longer in Ana’s story, we’re in Christian and Ana’s story. However, giving audiences this window into Christian’s troubled past doesn’t quite achieve what Foley would like. Nothing about Christian feels real, and, instead of humanizing him, giving him psychological problems only served to emphasize how much of a fantasy he really is. He’s too perfectly imperfect to ever really feel authentic. But, really, he doesn’t need to be. Despite having a new male screenwriter and male director, Fifty Shades Darker is as much a female fantasy as Fifty Shades of Grey. And I think that’s something women deserve, don’t you?