Closing the book on what is arguably one of the worst film franchises in recent memory, Fifty Shades Freed doesn’t quite end with the bang one would hope for. Although, if by "bang" you’re thinking what everyone else is thinking, then there are definitely a few of those in this third and final adaptation of the best-selling E.L. James trilogy. And there’s even the bang of a gun going off at some point in the third act.
But 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: 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. For good measure, the filmmakers also toss in a butt plug.
Seriously, is this the best we can offer adults who don’t want to watch Marvel movies? Given that the Fifty Shades flicks have so far grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide, the answer seems to be yes. This installment should likewise draw a good crowd, although perhaps less than the other two films as viewers begin to grow tired of the same old bedroom routine.
When we last left gazillionaire Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his paramour Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), they were on the verge of getting married. Freed, with its script written by Fifty Shades Darker scribe Niall Leonard, begins with the couple's glorious wedding, followed by a honeymoon that includes stops in Paris and the Cote d’Azur. At one point during the trip, Christian gets a little rattled because Ana wants to go topless on the beach, but that dispute is quickly resolved when he whisks her back to his giant yacht and takes out a pair of handcuffs.
Back in Seattle, the two settle into their new roles of husband and wife, although Ana wants to keep her job in book publishing and refuses to be constrained the way Christian would like. As in the other movies, it becomes a question of how much she will let herself be dominated — “You can’t keep me in a cage,” she tells him early on — in a relationship that, despite all the bells, whistles and bondage straps, is actually as traditional as they get. It turns out the big issue is that Ana may want to have a baby and Christian isn’t quite ready for it yet. Wait, who’s supposed to be “freed” here?
The rest of the plot is driven by Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s former boss who is now seeking revenge on the Grey couple. Why he does so is revealed extremely late in the movie when some documents are pulled out of a manila folder. Before that happens, we have to believe that Hyde — talk about a character name: Like Grey or Steele, its metaphorical weight smacks you in the face with all the subtlety of a giant dildo — a man who used to be a fiction book editor, has now become an expert in corporate sabotage, burglary, blackmail and kidnapping. It’s so poorly handled that it’s laughable, although the big problem with the Fifty Shades movies is that, except for maybe one joke here, they don’t know how to laugh at themselves.
What this all adds up to isn’t much, and the film’s race-against-the-clock finale has the creative suspense of a T.J. Hooker episode. Director James Foley, returning after taking over the franchise from Sam Taylor-Johnson, made some decent movies a few decades ago (At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, the underrated The Corruptor) and then worked on House of Cards for the first three seasons. But he seems to take little interest in this material beyond applying an extra level of gloss to each shot, with the production team going overboard on the BDSM and bling. Never has a drawer filled with vibrators looked as elegant and fanciful as it does here.
Johnson and Dornan do their best with the material as well, and, at least for the former’s sake, Ana Steele has a minimal sense of humor and a bit of life to her. Christian Grey, on the other hand, is such a bore that Dornan seems to be doubling down on the stiffness and gives his line readings like he’s reciting from a teleprompter. For a man who can buy anything he wants, including the woman of his dreams, Grey should maybe try investing in a personality.
For the many erotic titillations the Fifty Shades films advertise, their approach to sex has always seemed way too asepticized, like we’re watching two people make love with rubber gloves and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Can’t they just let loose a little bit, instead of playing by some supposed guidebook that involves expensive toys, safe words and what seems like zero spontaneity? The kinkiest scene in the whole series is probably one that occurs about halfway through Freed where, after a bout of insomnia, Ana and Christian decide to get busy in the kitchen with a tub of vanilla ice cream. They actually look like they’re having fun for once, which is not such a bad thing in what’s meant to be a love story. But in terms of, er, last licks, it comes as too little, too late.
Production companies: Universal Pictures, in association with Perfect World Pictures
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: James Foley
Screenwriter: Niall Leonard, based on the novel by E.L. James
Producers: Michael De Luca, E.L. James, Dana Brunetti, Marcus Viscidi
Director of photography: John Schwartzman
Production designer: Nelson Coates
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editors: Richard Francis-Bruce, Debra Neil-Fisher
Composer: Danny Elfman
Casting directors: Laray Mayfield, Julie Schubert
Rated R, 105 minutes