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'Fifty Shades Freed' Film Review: More Sex, Less Satisfaction

February 9, 2018Siobhán Finn

Valentine's Day is upon us once again, which means the romantic film franchise about a possessive billionaire and a college graduate with low self-esteem is back with another sequel.

Fifty Shades is the franchise based on the book, based on the fan fiction, based on the movie, based on the book, Twilight. Now, in its third installment, Fifty Shades Freed continues the story of Ana and Christian from their elaborate nuptials to their short-lived climatic moments of danger, which, like the previous films, are the only climaxes to be found in 105 minutes.

The movie picks up shortly after the conclusion of Fifty Shades Darker with the wedding of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). During their extended European honeymoon, there is a break-in at Grey Industries, forcing the newlyweds to return home early. Video footage shows the culprit is Jack (Eric Johnson), Ana's former boss at the publishing house. In between random haircuts, hikes in the woods, and shots of Ana attempting to prove she didn't marry into her unearned promotions at work, the Greys confront the issue that they apparently did not discuss anything important prior to getting married.

It is difficult to escape the fact that E.L. James wrote this series as the Twilight fan fiction Master of the Universe. Little effort has gone into changing the characteristics of any of the characters, so it may make the plot easier to digest if you think of Ana as Bella Swan and Christian as the repressed sparkle-vamp, Edward Cullen. Much like Edward in the original series, Christian keeps secrets that might otherwise save his love interest and earn her trust; and like Bella, Ana makes poorly thought-out decisions that put her in situations that could have been avoided with a modicum of communication between the couple.

Clearly director James Foley took viewer commentary about the previous films to heart, as Freed uses Christian and Ana's newlywed status as an excuse for more sex scenes than both of the previous combined. However, it is impossible to watch this movie and its endless parade of naked women without thinking of the term "male gaze." While Dornan finally deigned to remove his pants to have sex this time around, his nudity is brief, tasteful and focused on his musculature. This is in sharp contrast to Johnson's seemingly constant state of toplessness, even in scenes where clothes would not have changed the action on-screen.

The only thing Foley's camera seemed to adore more than Johnson's breasts, however, was her diamond engagement ring and wedding band. Even a scene as simple as picking up a teacup required a close-up shot of the impressive jewelry. And in a late third-act scene where Johnson's left hand was unavailable, Foley switched the focus to Marcia Gay Harden's wedding set instead. Meanwhile, Niall Leonard's script (based on his wife's book) tries to imagine the Greys as a romantic couple, but the awkward dialogue is only made worse by Dornan and Johnson's clear desire to be done with all fifty shades of their contracts.

Fan fiction can be a delightful source of good reading material, but despite a lucrative publishing contract E.L. James has missed the mark by a country mile with her tepid, misinformed brand of BDSM. Anyone looking for a romantic, sexy or simply good film this Valentine's Day should think long and hard before settling on Fifty Shades Freed.

Fifty Shades Freed releases February 9th, 2018 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 45 min.

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