Fifty Shades Freed brings the E.L. James’ book-based trilogy to its climax with plenty of sex, overwrought drama, and unintentional humor.
Fifty Shades Freed is the final installment in the trilogy of movies based on the book series by E.L. James that was first published in 2011. Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie from director Sam Taylor-Johnson and writer Kelly Marcel, launched the film trilogy in 2015. However, Fifty Shades of Grey received mixed reviews from critics who felt the movie struggled between earnest drama and adapting the beloved, but over-the-top, aspects of the book. In the end, though, the film was successful enough for Universal to green light adaptations of the second and third installments of the book series. The middle chapter, Fifty Shades Darker, hit theaters in 2017. Fifty Shades Freed brings the E.L. James’ book-based trilogy to its climax with plenty of sex, overwrought drama, and unintentional humor.
After Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) proposed to Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) in Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed finds the happy couple exchanging marriage vows in front of their closest friends and family. They then set off on a jet-setting honeymoon to some of the most romantic locations in the world – including, of course, Paris, France – and enjoy being married. However, their honeymoon is cut short after Ana’s disgruntled former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) breaks into the offices of Christian’s company. Jack proves to be more dangerous than anticipated, though, and hatches a plot against Mr. and Mrs. Grey to reclaim something he thinks he’s owed.
Meanwhile, Ana and Christian hit some road bumps in the early days of their marriage, particularly when it comes to Christian’s reactions to Ana defying his orders. Ana must acclimate to living life with all the privileges of the Grey name, while Christian must learn to live with Ana’s independence, and her choice to continue working as a fiction editor for a local publishing house. The couple are able to work through many of their disagreements, and make time to spend with their loved ones, including Christian’s little sister/Ana’s friend Mia (Rita Ora) and Ana’s best friend Kate (Eloise Mumford), who’s dating Christian’s brother Elliot (Luke Grimes). But, when Ana finds out she’s pregnant, it will either make or break their marriage – and Jack picks the worst possible time to resurface.
Fifty Shades Freed reunites the creative team who worked on Fifty Shades Darker, with the script penned by James’ husband Niall Leonard, and the film directed by James Foley. After Fifty Shades of Grey, on which James reportedly fought many times with director Taylor-Johnson, it seems the author of the film series’ source material was given more oversight to bring her vision to life. As was the case with Fifty Shades Darker, what Fifty Shades Freed delivers is undoubtedly a much more faithful adaptation of the novel on which it’s based – for better or for worse. Unfortunately, the overwrought story of the novel is brought to dramatic life in Fifty Shades Freed with an earnestness that veers more into unintentional humor than compelling drama.
After two previous movies, viewers should theoretically care and be invested in the lives of Christian and Ana by now, and Fifty Shades Freed rests on the idea that the first two films introduced complex characters to which the audience has become attached. However, the cracks in the previous films, particularly in how underdeveloped Ana and Christian are as independent characters – let alone in their romantic relationship – are only compounded by even more superficial character arcs. Johnson and Dornan do their best in the roles, which are more multifaceted than previous films by virtue of Fifty Shades Freed allowing the characters some opportunities to break from their respective archetypes – Christian, the inexpressive, possessive man can be charming, and Anastasia the timid, clumsy woman can be a boss.
Still, while Fifty Shades Freed attempts to balance a storyline about the internal conflicts of Ana and Christian’s marriage with the external conflict of Jack Hyde, both wind up half-baked and lacking in much substance so that neither are entirely compelling, or entirely the focus. Although the conflict with Jack is a throughline that continues from Fifty Shades Darker, it brings a ridiculous action element into the story that often feels out of place, and only conveniently ties into Christian and Ana. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of potential for drama from Christian and Ana’s internal conflicts – particularly over Christian’s past and his impending fatherhood. Not to mention more personal conflicts among their friends, especially in regards to Kate and Elliot’s relationship, with the introduction of Elliot’s past flame Gia Matteo (Arielle Kebbel). But no one throughline is given enough time to be fully developed, which makes for a largely surface-level movie.
Of course, arguably what made James’ Fifty Shades book series so revelatory for readers wasn’t the story, which is itself fanfiction based on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, nor necessarily the characters insofar as they were independent to each other. Certainly, the dramatic twists and turns of the story kept readers invested in Ana and Christian’s story, but what drew in many readers was curiosity over a romance novel with an atypical – and explicitly sexual – bent. The escapism of typical romance novels and the novelty of BDSM-tinged erotica helped propel Fifty Shades of Grey to the worldwide phenomenon it became, and – if nothing else – Fifty Shades Freed can be commended for attempting to give book fans a faithful adaptation of the source material. Unfortunately, while Fifty Shades Freed delivers all the escapism and sex expected, it brings with it the same problems as the source material.
That’s not to say Fifty Shades Freed isn’t enjoyable. The books were popular because they were entertaining to read, and Fifty Shades Freed can be entertaining to watch. Fans will certainly appreciate the film staying as true to the book as possible, while movie audiences who have followed Christian and Ana’s romance will find a satisfying conclusion to their story. The movie – as with the entire series – is over-the-top and over-earnest in its overwrought storyline, but it can be escapist fun for those already invested or interested in the franchise. Fifty Shades Freed won’t win over any new viewers, but it will certainly satisfy those who have followed the series through Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker.
Fifty Shades Freed is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 105 minutes and is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language.
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