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 The Audience is Finally Freed 

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson
Universal Pictures
 105 Minutes
Directed byJames Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan 
Fifty Shades Freed

It’s been said on more than one occasion that marriage takes the excitement out of a relationship, and, while I’m not going to debate that theory in general, heading down the aisle often puts the kibosh on cinematic relationships, even more so on small screen couples, where shows from Moonlighting to Castle hit the skids when the lead couples tied the knot. But when characters in a movie series don’t have much chemistry to begin with and the rest of the film is ridiculously inept, as in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, then the end result of a marriage can be of Razzie Award proportions. And so it is in Fifty Shades Freed.


This thankfully final episode in the Fifty Shades series begins with Ana (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) having worked out whatever differences they had in the first two movies and now enjoying the lavish sort of wedding and honeymoon that only a ridiculously young and ridiculously handsome billionaire can afford. But the honeymoon isn’t even over before problems start cropping up when the jealous Christian’s insists that Ana not sunbathe topless on the French Riviera. Considering that almost the sole reason for most people to see Fifty Shades Freed is to get glances at Dakota Johnson’s nude body, Christian’s attitude would seem to defeat the entire purpose of the film. Fortunately, he soon apologizes and they make up for his boorish behavior by having a remarkably unremarkable romp in the sack.


Indeed, this initial encounter sets the stage for the entire film. Fifty Shades consists mainly of a series of scenes in which the pouty and jealous Christian gets upset about something, sulks about it for a few minutes, and then does something crude and harsh. Whereupon Ana stands up to him, he then apologizes, and we have a cut to the bedroom or other convenient location for an encounter. In these encounters, Christian and Ana seem to have forgotten for the most part about the kinky sadomasochistic fun and games from the first two movies that were the series’ main drawing point for most audience members. Absent the kink (and it is largely absent here), there’s nothing left but R-rated nude scenes. In fairness, for those who look at the Fifty Shades movies in this manner, Freed does feature more nudity than the other two movies but, on the other hand, less actual kink or semblance of passion.


Of course, Fifty Shades Freed doesn’t consist exclusively of petty squabbles between the now-weeded couple. The film does have a conventional thriller plot that shows up every fifteen minutes or so. Ana’s ex-boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who tried to rape her in the previous movie in the series and lost his job as a result, is back and looking for revenge. At one point, he manages to enter Ana’s apartment undetected, despite the presence of two full-time security guards, and hold her briefly at knifepoint. Later, he manages to make bail and do something even more dastardly, leading to the movie’s major (and I use the term extremely advisedly) action sequence.


The subplot involving Jack Hyde has all the trappings of a conventional melodramatic suspense thriller, but Fifty Shades Freed can’t even rise to the level of juicy escapist trash. Eric Johnson tries gamely, snarling at every opportunity, but his efforts to make Hyde appear to be a credible menace fail miserably because the character is quite simply the most inept, pathetic villain since Yosemite Sam. He makes blunder after blunder and is easily bested on multiple occasions by Ana, as the film rushes through his storyline.


Fifty Shades Freed runs through a number of storylines without making a single one of them in the least bit interesting. The blame for this goes to the screenplay by Niall Leonard directly, and probably the original author, E.L. James indirectly. It’s a fairly safe bet that nepotism had something to do with Leonard getting hired to draft the screenplay since he happens to be the husband of the author (whose real name is Erika Mitchell). James was unhappy about the way the screenplay of Fifty Shades of Grey altered her novel. Since I’ve never read any of the novels, I can’t say how faithful any of the screenplays were. I can say that the initial film, whose screenplay was written by Kelly Marcel, was at least occasionally interesting. The script of Freed, like that of its predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker (also written by Leonard), is a hopeless mess, combining inane dialogue, incredibly stupid and illogical behavior by multiple characters, and multiple storylines that are inexplicably dropped and then vanish.


The only person worth watching in Fifty Shades Freed is Dakota Johnson, and not merely in the prurient sense. She has her mother Melanie Griffith’s mix of sweetness and sex appeal and also a strength and screen presence that makes a few scenes, such as the one pictured below, work when by all means they should not. But she is constantly betrayed by the script and director James Foley, who does not seem to want to dwell on anything inconsequential like plot in his rush to get back to loving shots of the luxurious opulence that Christian and Ana now enjoy and even more loving shots of the couple in bed. As for Johnson’s co-star Jamie Dornan, the main thing I found remarkable about his performance was the way in which the length of his beard seemed to change remarkably from one scene to the next, even when they supposedly take place only hours apart. As a screen presence, his abs and glutes make more of a statement than he does.


Based on the critical response (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) that the Fifty Shades novels received, I have a gut feeling that much of the problem with Fifty Shades Freed harkens back to its source material, although the adaptation doesn’t do the story any favors. Nor does director Foley’s direction, as an extremely tepid automobile chase scene demonstrates. Fifty Shades Freed resembles a script written by a middle school student, fascinated with wealth, kink, and sex, who knows the plot elements that go into a good potboiler, but doesn’t know enough about them, or about human nature, to make these elements either credible or campily entertaining. So, the result is like a Mad Magazine parody, with the only difference being that the inanely stupid things highlighted don’t come from the parodist but are in the original script instead. In the end, the best thing about Fifty Shades Freed is that the audience has finally been freed of this trilogy. 

In this scene, Dakota Johnson puts a conniving rival in her place.

Read other reviews of Fifty Shades Freed: 

Fifty Shades Freed (2018) on IMDb