A film review by Craig J. Koban May 16, 2018

FIFTY SHADES FREED  j
 

2018, R, 105 mins.

 

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele  /  Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey  /  Kim Basinger as Elena Lincoln  /  Eric Johnson as Jack Hyde  /  Arielle Kebbel as Gia Matteo  /  Brant Daugherty as Luke Sawyer

Directed by James Foley  /  Written by Niall Leonard, based on the book by E.L. James

 

 

 

 

There are two reasons why I think FIFTY SHADES FREED is the best entry in the trilogy of films based on the inexplicably popular series of novels by E.L. James. 

 Seriously...hear me out.  

Firstly, it's the most mercifully short entry in this soft core drama franchise, which is a major victory for all of those in attendance that will be anxiously staring at the cinema exit sign while screening it.  Secondly, star Dakota Johnson seems at her most relaxed in this one versus the previous two, and the manner that she never takes FIFTY SHADES FREED too seriously - not to mention her ability to infuse a much needed dosage of credible humanity into the proceedings - is a testament to her abilities as an actress.  She's a lively presence this go around, which helps a tad in terms of making this trilogy ender somewhat more tolerable. 

But, who am I kidding, a briefer running time and a game actress is hardly enough to save FIFTY SHADES FREED from the same levels of soul crushing mediocrity that typified FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and FIFTY SHADES DARKER.  The entire series up until this point concerns the sexual dynamo power couple that is the unfathomably rich and handsome Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, still a charisma black hole) and his mousy girlfriend Anastasia Steele (Johnson) and their on again off again relationship as a pair erotically hungry souls that partake in S & M intercourse sessions of the most kinky variety.  FIFTY SHADES FREED, I guess, seems like the most logical progression of their union as we see them finally wed and the newfound series of conflicts that comes while being a newlywed couple.  One of the most damning and glaringly obvious problems with this third film is that it mightily struggles with a reason to justify its existence.  Now that Christian and Anastasia are married the film seems pathetically desperate in finding new ways to drum up any level of dramatic suspense moving forward.  Ironically, watching the final climatic entry in the FIFTY SHADES trilogy as it tries to give something for its lead actors to do is arguably more tortuous than being on the receiving end of one of Mr. Grey's whips in his red leather walled sex dungeon. 

 

 

Unless, of course, that's what does it for you as a filmgoer. 

As the film opens we see Christian and Anastasia getting all glammed up for their wedding day, followed by them quickly escaping the reception, jumping into a sports car, and driving to the airport to fly away in Christian's private jet to Paris for their honeymoon.  While on the sun drenched beaches Anastasia decides that she would like to sunbath topless, which instantly annoys her bicep bulging husband, who still creepily treats her like a possession and not an equal partner in marriage.  At least they still agree on using specific safe words just in case things get way, way out of hand engaging during bondage sex.  While the couple are enjoying some semblance of happiness overseas it appears that, back in Seattle, there's a - gasp! - break in at Christian's corporate HQ, and it looks like the handiwork of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the same ex-boss of Anastasia's that has sexually assaulted her.  Realizing that he has no choice, Christian grabs Anastasia and immediately flies back home to secure his company and ensure that his wife has the best security money can buy.  Ludicrous plot machinations ensue, but at least we are thankfully spared of any third act helicopter crashes that occupied the final sections of FIFTY SHADES DARKER to laughable effect. 

I just didn't give a damn about Christian and Anastasia's life as a married couple or any new and dangerous obstacles that they faced because they're simply not likeable characters that are worthy of our rooting interest.  Outside of looking really good naked, Christian virtually never possesses attractive qualities throughout this franchise that would invite a sane woman's fondness of him.  Even after exchanging nuptials with Anastasia and superficially looking like he's turned over a new leaf, Christian emerges as being even more jealous, domineering, and obsessive in his control freak tendencies than ever before (but, darn it, he should looks inviting when he sings Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" to Anastasia while on the piano, in one of the film's most head shaking attempts to humanize this cretin).  Even though, as mentioned, Anastasia seems a bit more assertive and yearning for personal space and independence, she nevertheless still acquiesces to the sick and perverted sexual demands of her hubby that oversees every facet of her life like a vile narcissistic taskmaster.   

The script itself become unintentionally amusing when it comes to shoehorning in roadblocks that impedes this couple's future happiness.  Despite getting married, Christian and Anastasia never really seem to have had any logical conversations about having children, which rears itself up in a pregnancy subplot that that shows the pair arguing about whether or not they should have kids (the answer to that simple question - especially considering their vast and sordid history together - would be a resounding NO).  When debates about the pros and cons of babies aren't thrown into the mix, FIFTY SHADES FREED then dumps a lazily scripted abduction subplot involving - guess who? - the psychopath that once tried to have his way with Anastasia.  This film journeys from point A to B and finally to C with such an annoying levels of predictability that I developed a headache from all of the incredulous eye rolling. 

The difference between low level, mirco budgeted soft core pornography and FIFTY SHADES FREED is that low level, mirco budgeted soft corn pornography actually has more up its sleeve in the plot department.  Because virtually nothing of intriguing interest happens throughout this film all we are left with is, uh huh, the sex scenes, which are frequently dispersed throughout the course of the running time.  Director James Foley (who seemingly forever ago made the brilliant film adaptation pf David Mamet's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and now sold his soul to the movie devil to make this dreck) films the sex scenes so mechanically and passionless that we feel like we're watching awkwardly scripted How To videos (it also doesn't help that they're all set to pop songs blaring on the soundtrack, which makes the scenes feel like glorified music videos from a bygone era).   Yes, there's lots of nudity.  Yes, Johnson and Dornan are attractive performers that are easy on the eyes.  But the FIFTY SHADES series unequivocally proves that you can pair limitlessly beautiful people in sex scenes and still have them register very little, if any, tangible heat or eroticism.  Because the lead stars have such a fundamental lack of on screen chemistry - even after two previous films together - the sex scenes they occupy here emerge as duller than ever.  I never once felt titillated by anything that I saw here.   

I said earlier that this was the "best" film in this series...and I stand by that.  I logically give FIFTY SHADES FREED one and a half stars, which is better than the half a star and zero star grades I respectively gave the last few.   Thankfully, though - praying to the movie gods - this is indeed the last of these films and FIFTY SHADES FREED will finally put a nail to the coffin of this series that was on critical life support from the opening scenes of its introductory installment.  Maybe with a better cast, more engaging scripting, and a genuine willingness from all involved both in front of and behind the camera to embrace its campy trashiness this series could have been moderately watchable.  In its current form, FIFTY SHADES FREED and its prequels - as a collective whole - are arduous endurance tests.  And considering that this last film has been released at the height of the Me Too movement, perhaps its central story of a maniacally domineering man having his sexual hungers and desires placated by exuding power over a woman and making her his "submissive" has an ickiness factor that's hard to shake during these stressful socio-cultural times.  These are not the types of films we really need right now. 

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