Friday, February 24, 2017

50 Shades Darker: A Public Service Announcement

Only implied by the movie; also, sexier than anything in it.
Several years ago, I dragged my wife to see Pacific Rim. I was into Godzilla and movies with giant monsters battling over a city-scape growing up, so I figured we might enjoy it. Instead, my wife and I reference Pacific Rim anytime we're grasping to explain how awful something is – e.g. “well, it wasn’t Pacific Rim bad or anything, but…”

Last night, my wife took me to see 50 Shades Darker. She’s into romance novels and light bondage, so she figured we might enjoy it.

At one point last night, she leaned over and whispered to me, “this is worse than the first one.” I whispered back, “This is your Pacific Rim.”

Dear God in Heaven, where do I begin?

Last night I tweeted that 50 Shades Darker has “the narrative tension of an IKEA manual.” I’ll add to that in this modest piece of public service, because the experience was actually closer to finishing building a piece of IKEA furniture after someone else started it.

Say it’s a dresser you’re working on, a product that we’ll call a “Mouvee” (you’ll have to place/visualize your own umlauts on that). Because someone else has already started construction, you start with a frame (in this case, 50 Shades of Grey), and a whole bunch of parts. In the end, you know that all those parts will fit together somehow as a finished product – again, a “Mouvee” – but all of it looks like a pile of cheap junk prior to construction.

It’s worse, actually. Imagine that, instead of working directly from the instructions, the people asking you to build Mouvee insist that you listen to other people read and explain them to you. Moreover, the people chosen to do the reading sound like they’re reading those instructions for the first time, absent working familiarity of all the pieces and no clue as the final product. For all that, they talk you through what happens first, and then next, and then next again. A number of things happened – e.g. events and conversations - a lot of them separate mini-projects that only fit together because they happened to occupy the same two-hour (?) space (honestly, I spent most of the time wishing I could go to the bathroom). To wrap up the analogy, think of Mouvee as a dresser; now think of sticking a clock on top of the damn thing, because you can, so why the hell not?

That’s the experience of watching 50 Shades Darker in person. To step away from the IKEA analogy and to go into layman’s terms, both lead actors are fucking terrible: long dead trees have more life than Jamie Dornan, as well as a better grasp on the concept that words aren’t just sounds, but also vehicles for communicating meaning; Dakota Johnson, meanwhile, can’t even land a plausible moan (and she spends so very much time on “sexy” exhaling).

And the sex – Jesus fucking CHRIST, the sex. Forget the leads’ lack of chemistry: 50 Shades Darker fails to deliver sexual intensity, never mind “BDSM.” All the fucking was pure vanilla, just with a couple props shoved clumsily into the frame. It’s a miracle Dornan kept an erection through all of it. And the bastard kept his pants on in every scene but one.

A couple cardboard villains aside, every other character in the movie amounts to nothing better than a prop. Because the script (or editing) limits their dialogue to the kind of banalities that pass between people at a crowded party (where, admittedly, a lot of this dialogue took place) – e.g., “it’s so good to see you,” or “you look wonderful in that dress,’ or even “I’m so glad you’re in Christian’s life” – these characters not only lack personality, they fail to contextualize and support the leads. The villains also fail as characters, more plot devices than people, walking/talking widgets who exist solely to raise the stakes for each of the leads (their names? do you care? fine…Anastasia and Christian). And, as with the sex, not much of anything rose for the length of the screen time. Not so much as a twitch, I tell you. Maybe 50 Shades of Grey would tell me something (anything?) about these characters; I only know 50 Shades Darker didn't do shit with them.

Given every last thing about this movie that bounds it firmly to the earth, it’s not worth passing it through even the technical frame above, never mind any one of a dozen others. The plotting sucked, I never wondered about character motivations because I hated the protagonists too much to care – I was pulling for an earthquake to come and swallow up everyone, but had to settle for a helicopter crash – and, for the (at least third time), the underwear section of a fucking Sears catalog is 50 shades hotter than this piece of shit.


You have been warned.

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