The definition of insanity, as Albert Einstein famously did not observe, is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results. I have, then, managed to retain some tattered shreds of sanity by having no expectations that Fifty Shades Freed, the third and — oh, dear Lord, please, let it be so — the last film in EL James’ turgid, tiresome Fifty Shades series of flaming cinematic dogturds, would have anything resembling cinematic or artistic, or even erotic, merit. Expectations set duly lower than an earthworm’s scrotum, the film failed to meet them.
It’s rubbish. Let’s just be clear about that right from the start. It’s utter poo. It’s nonsense, it’s dull, it’s tedious, it’s flat and lifeless and dull and boring and dull and unengaging and quite endlessly and relentlessly, dully, dull. The story, such as it is, follows Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Christian Dorning) through the first months of their marriage, as Jack, Ana’s old boss at the publishing company, fired by Christian, who is, as we are repeatedly reminded, her boss’s boss’s boss, threatens and attempts to abduct first Ana and then another member of the Grey family. There’s a hint, a mere soupçon, of a storyline in here, but certainly not enough to flesh out the hour and three quarters of running time the film will steal from your life. It’s so utterly undeveloped, with so very little flesh on its bones, that you forget about it between the little episodes of unsuccessfully-attempted peril that are dotted through the film. It is so ploddingly, inelegantly, lumpenly presented that it manages to be utterly devoid of anything resembling tension. It’s not enough, either in terms of substance or depth, to justify its own presence in the film.
So without story, what else does a film need? Characters would help, and again, Fifty Shades Freed is sorely, desperately lacking. Johnson is, again, the nearest thing to a decent actor in the film, but to describe her thus is to damn with the faintest of praise. She remains, in her interactions with Christian, a simpering, whiney little brat; she only manages to show anything resembling steel when she’s hiding behind her husband’s name, the rest of the film simply looking doe-eyed and pleading. Dorning again seems to think that any scene can be stolen with a really good scowl, and spends much of the film working through of his repertoire of very nearly several different ones, all the time delivering his lines as though he were reading them in a language he was encountering for the very first time. The characters themselves, behaving as they do in a way that bears little resemblance to actual, real people’s behaviour, are utterly implausible, as is their relationship — at one point, after having been out drinking with a mate, she’s concerned that she’s “going to get into so much trouble,” because she’s so entirely weak and pathetic, and he’s such an utter control freak. Neither character is likeable; neither is interestingly unlikeable. Neither is well-written, or well-acted, and there is less spark of chemistry or sexual tension between them than one might find among neighbours in a graveyard.
But this is “mummy-porn,” right? Wasn’t that the whole point of the Fifty Shades phenomenon — edgy, literate erotica for women? I’m not a woman, so perhaps I can’t entirely say for sure how well it speaks to its target audience, but I can say with a fair degree of certainty that it’s about as erotic as doing the ironing. Both leads spend a decent amount of the film without any clothes on, but they and director James Foley, all of whom really need to have a long word with themselves, manage to pare away any actual eroticism from the sex and the nudity, which is very carefully kept above the waist — perhaps the film itself is such bollocks that we don’t need to see any more on screen. There is, of course, actual porn on the screen, money porn in the shape of the endless drooling over the trappings of wealth, the Learjets and the yachts and the Aspen ski lodges and the honeymoon montage in the south of France and in Paris, the latter replete with a phallicly-thrusting Eiffel Tower just to drive home the point. But the money porn only serves to remind that just as there’s a world of difference between the truly erotic and the merely pornographic, there is similarly a yawning gulf between wealth and class. The Greys’ wedding takes place in what looks like the lobby of a convention centre of an out-of-town hotel, and Christian couldn’t even be arsed to have a shave before his wedding; after that, the film can’t get enough of the trappings of wealth, without any thought to elegance or sophistication.
There is, as there was in the first film in the trilogy, a scene set in Christian’s S&M dungeon which actually hints at the potential for a good film, a scene which in this case cuts between Ana getting seen to by Christian, and Ana wearing a faraway, distracted look on her face in her office as she thinks back to said seeing-to. On the one hand, perhaps there was the germ, the slightest nubbin, of a better film in here, just waiting to fight its way past the hopeless acting, the dialogue that sounds like it’s been translated into Vietnamese, then into Serbo-Croat, then back to English by someone who only speaks Arapaho, and the pedestrian direction. On the other hand, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
So this is the third film; it’s finally over. All three films have been poo, each in its own uniquely rubbish way. But they’ve all been poo, and now, mercifully, it’s over.