The "Fifty Shades" franchise is about to hit its climax, but not surprisingly, critics have declared the threequel a mess yielding very little pleasure.
Out of 36 critics counted so far on Rotten Tomatoes, only six reviews were deemed positive, leaving "Fifty Shades Freed" with just a 14 percent approval rating, which could rise or fall before it hits theaters on Friday. Even the two reporters who gave the James Foley-directed movie a "fresh" review threw shade at it, calling the conclusion of the trilogy "ridiculous" and "wildly improbable."
"Fifty Shades Freed" follows the continued adventures of S&M lovers Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after saying "I Do." But that honeymoon doesn't last long as skeletons from their past come back to haunt them and threaten their happy ending.
Arielle Kebbel, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora, Tyler Hoechlin, Luke Grimes and Brant Daugherty also star.
Keep reading for six of the worst reviews, so far, for this not-so-kinky movie.
The audience I saw this with cracked up the whole time. And not in the we're-uncomfortable-so-let's-nervously-laugh way, but in the can-you-believe-this-is-an-actual-movie forehead-slapping way.
The thriller plot with Hyde is wafer thin. So director James Foley (yes, the same James Foley who somehow once directed Glengarry Glen Ross and then apparently lost a bet with Satan) appeals to our collective weakness for materialistic envy with ritzy mountain vacations, bubble baths, and visits to the infamous Red Room of Pain. As an actress, Johnson sells all of this hooey better than Dornan, who, three films in, hasn't gotten much better as an actor. Sure, he has an underwear model's bod, artfully manicured stubble, and intense Blue Steel stares. He can even sit down at the piano and soulfully belt his way through Paul McCartney's “Maybe I'm Amazed”. But he still comes off as a daytime soap star who somehow hit the lottery.
Money has always been the cushion for Fifty Shades' spicier provocations, and it's the aspect of the series that has aged the worst in the three years. Since E.L. James's books originally made their splash, we as a culture took our sweet time realizing that most billionaires are more interested in deporting immigrants than sweeping young assistants off their feet, and we have become more suspicious of the powerful boss/naïve intern dynamic that fuels so much of the film's sexual intrigue. Not that anyone is or should be looking at these films with such a stern eye, I'm just saying that they look more out of step with the times than ever. As the trilogy goes out, more desperate than ever to convince us it was in on the joke all along, it's hard to say exactly what the joke was.
Any vague hope that the best, or rather least worst, was being saved until last is swiftly made futile by an opening sequence so alarmingly vapid that it feels like a parody. Every emotional beat for the first 15 minutes is dictated by a new materialistic discovery (Oh my God he has his own jet! Oh my God he has his own boat! Oh my God he has his own chef!). Christian appears to treat her like a competition winner with ADD, surprising her with his wealth in an attempt to keep her, and maybe us, entertained. It's obscenely gratuitous lifestyle porn, so personality-free that it could be watched without volume in a hotel reception, and it's gradually and inevitably interspersed with more softcore porn, so soft and so boringly frequent that I could almost feel a collective audience sigh every time they got naked again. While it definitely feels as though there's more sex than usual, it usually involves an element that one can check off with crushing reliability (licking ice-cream off one another – tick; sex in a car – tick; sex with handcuffs – tick). It's all so comfortable and well-lit, as though it's directed by someone who's never actually had sex.
The script, written by Niall Leonard, AKA the Fifty Shades author EL James's husband, is just exactly what it is: a middle-aged man speculating as to how not only a young couple converse but also, bleakly, how young women interact with one another. There's zero specificity in any of the bland scenes with Ana and her friends or female colleagues (“Are you OK? Do you want a latte?”) and, instead, Leonard uses what he's learned about women from commercials (they love shopping, cocktails and bubble baths). The dialogue just exists. Its purpose is to slowly edge the feather-light plot forward rather than provide any depth or humor to any interaction. There's more of an attempt here to add the loose outline of a thriller narrative to occupy the scenes when they're not having boring sex but it's of the daytime soap variety (at one point a character gets kidnapped outside a gym). There's never any real danger or real emotion or real anything here, to be honest, it's as if it's playing in the background, and no one involved can be bothered to add color or life or even a frisson of passion.
“Fifty Shades Freed” is being sold as the sexiest, most explosive of the series (“Don't miss the climax,” pleads the tagline), but for the third time the film fails to capitalize on what made the books such runaway successes in the first place: the sex. At this point we've been in and out of the red room so often that it's completely lost its intrigue (Ana even manages to catch 40 winks in there), and the sex scenes feel more like an afterthought, inserted to remind us of the reason the series became such a phenomenon.
But although it tries to hide it by cramming in fist fights, car chases and kidnapping, “Fifty Shades Freed” suffers from a lack of rhythm, moving from plot point to plot point with as much spontaneity as meal-planning for one's luxury penthouse household with one's housekeeper. It's clichéd, stodgy and overly faithful to the original books. But at the end of the day, who cares?
There's a lot I could tolerate with these movies—the fact that they worship at the altar of wealth and confuse gratuitous displays of money with love (I know Christian can whisk Ana away to Aspen whenever he wants, but I'd be shocked if he knew the title of her favorite book); that Dornan and Johnson clearly despise each other (the only scene where they seem to have any connection is one where Ana and Christian are angrily yelling at each other); and that the sex scenes are bland because there's no chemistry between the actors. But I draw the line at trying to normalize someone like Christian without ever forcing him to change his behavior.
Unlike the first two instalments of EL James's gauzy softcore trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed was not screened in advance anywhere in the UK. So in order to see it, your intrepid critic made a 16 hour round trip to Paris, where the film opened on Wednesday in the driving snow, in order to send back advance word that, yes, it is somehow even ropier than the second one.
The French title, Cinquante Nuances Plus Claires, has a certain purring mystique that at felt quite promising, but as far as nuances on screen were concerned, I counted zero. This is a film in which one of the more emotionally detailed performances is given by a product-placement Audi.