Less than a week before Valentine's Day, the final installment in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, has arrived, wrapping up three years of mild BDSM on the big screen. While the end of a franchise usually sparks nostalgia, critics almost unanimously agree that it’s time for the Fifty Shades of Grey series to fade to black.
Although main characters Ana and Christian (Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan) spend most of the movie having sex, The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer feels the new release "doesn’t quite end with the bang one would hope for."
"In terms of drama, or melodrama, or just bad drama, Freed rarely delivers the goods while trying hard to give fans what they came for,” he writes. The film does feature "more visits to the 'playroom' for some lightweight sadomasochism, more eye-rolling plot mechanics involving Christian Grey’s troubled past, more reactionary views on love and marriage, more money shots of sports cars, private jets and vacation homes that only the 1 percent can afford and more attempts to turn what may be one of the duller couples to ever grace the screen into two captivating characters."
IndieWire's Manuela Lazic, however, finds the film "empowering" as it finally frees Ana from the stiff script binding the previous installments. In this pic, audiences will see Ana take a little bit more control in the relationship and, to Lazic, that makes all the difference. Anastasia Steele staying firmly in control of her sexuality is refreshing and necessary to Lazic, who calls it "a narrative turn that manages to frame [Ana and Christian's] marriage as an empowering structure for women."
She continues: “By adapting its heroine’s perspective, the series displays a willingness to accept that sex can be a ridiculous proposition. And that concession rids this installment of the suffocating pomposity found in its predecessors.”
Ana’s newfound playfulness is thanks, in part, to Johnson. Critics across the board agreed that the lead actress' performance is the film's only redeemable quality. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone writes that the action-packed plot "does give Johnson — a clever actress who deserves much better — a reprieve from getting trussed up naked and pawed by her costar.” The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee praises Johnson for remaining “a compelling presence, trying her darnedest with lifeless words, but, again, she’s stranded by the energy-sucking vortex of nothingness that is Jamie Dornan. He’s better than this (as he has shown with menace in The Fall) but he knows it and his boredom is lazily apparent throughout."
Lee finds Freed's main problem to be that 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.”
Where the film does try to spark passion, it falls flat. The New York Times’ Jeanette Catsoulis notes, “There’s an out-of-left-field abduction and a marital tiff over email addresses; but these narrative fragments, lazily tossed together alongside a neglected supporting cast, are no more than a flimsy causeway connecting bonking sessions.”
Catsoulis is happy that Freed marks the "climax" of the trilogy.
"If another sequel shows up," she writes. "I’m going to have to use my safe word."
Fifty Shades Freed is in theaters now.