There is nothing sane about the existence and popularity of the Fifty Shades franchise. What’s weirder still is that it’s a trilogy that genuinely isn’t totally irredeemable. In Fifty Shades Freed the story ‘climaxes’ with a meta-twist: what was originally Twilight fan-fiction has become Fifty Shades fan-fiction. Bizarre.
In a plot that takes triviality to new heights, Fifty Shades Freed sees Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) tie the knot – one that, for once, doesn’t relate to bondage – and (private) jet off on an obscenely expensive honeymoon. He’s still an vapid control freak and she’s still awkwardly plonked between wet blanket and ‘strong, independent woman’ but, in all other regards, it’s an over-indulgent, globetrotting opener that couldn’t look more like the filler for a music video if it tried. On their return, it’s back to business for both, with Christian employed to stand around in offices and Ana inexplicably promoted to ‘Chief Fiction Editor’ at her publishing workplace, meaning she too can stand around in offices doing bugger all whilst looking, earning and spending a million dollars. At home, the horny newlyweds have business of their own to be getting down with. Thus, as ever, no room – red or otherwise – is missed out of their weird-sex bucket list. So far so inane.
Yet, marital bliss isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and, when they’re not squabbling over surnames and play dates with friends, Mr. and Mrs. Grey have Ana’s psychotic pervert of an ex-boss (Eric Johnson’s Jack Hyde) to contend with. There are twists and turns in that particular saga that shan’t be spoiled here but essentially Hyde – in his Harvey Dent gone Two-Face phase – is hellbent on a ill-conceived mission to get his life back at the expense of the entire Grey dynasty, which of course includes Rita Ora’s likeable Mia.
As the gleeful giggling that accompanies the appearance of a BBFC 18 certificate – warning of ‘strong sex’ – in screenings attests, part of the long term mega-appeal of the Fifty Shades franchise (films and E. L. James’ books alike) is the rumpy pumpy. In spite of the crudity that plagues the source material, the cinematic outings of Ana and Christian have always erred towards the safer side, resulting in escapades that are consistently tame and rarely arousing. Part of the issue is that, on-screen at least, Dornan and Johnson present a dearth of chemistry, heightened by the former’s abject lack of charisma in the role. James Foley has been on directorial duties since Sam Taylor-Johnson (wisely) jumped ship after a harrowing experience on film one but hasn’t his predecessor’s style. Here, Foley seems more turned on by Christian’s uber-sleek range of cars than his infamous red room. One can only imagine the eye-wateringly large investment that the manufacturers of one such vehicle paid for it to be featured in three advertising montages, including a display of hands-free parallel parking. In his attempt to draw lubricant from a stone, meanwhile, Niall Leonard’s script finds room for scintillating lines like: ‘I had a dream last night that you were dead’ and ‘boobs in boob-land’. That said, a scene involving ice cream looks set to be an all timer.
Whereas Fifty Shades Darker was arduously dull to witness, Freed is at least more in line with Grey in its degree of actual watchability. Occasionally, scenes of laugh-out-loud stupidity (‘I love what you’re doing in Africa’) remind of the daft slice of sexy silliness that you wish this were whilst Johnson once again somehow manages to make Ana a character worth caring about.
By the time the finale arrives, bringing a montage of all three films with it, it does so in a way that will provide pleasing closure for fans and relieving freedom for critics. After three, weirdly perverse years, the world has been Fifty Shades freed.