Fifty Shades Darker

In the wake of her decision, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is moving on with her life in Seattle without Christian Grey (Jaime Dornan). However, moving on isn’t easy when the memories of what was and what could still linger, especially when proximity is no longer a barrier. Fifty Shades Darker was released two years after Fifty Shades of Grey and had a slightly bigger budget than its predecessor.

In an effort to stave off the production issues that plagued the first film (including a fractious relationship between novelist E.L. James and Director Sam Taylor-Johnson), the production process for Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed was commenced at the same time – with filming happening back-to-back.

When all three films are watched in rapid succession, the subtle changes between the first film and the latter two are noticeable, but all of the set pieces and supporting characters are able to flow smoothly from Darker to Freed.

Fifty Shades Darker built on the seeds that were planted in its original outing and further explores the reasons why Christian is the way that he is – from his traumatic past when his mother is murdered, her boyfriend’s abusive actions, his ‘relationship’ with Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger) to how his relationships with his subs were conducted. Anastasia is still coming to terms with who she believes Christian is and what he needs out of a relationship with a woman, something she is adamant that it is not who she is or what she can give him. There is a major supporting character who, in a rejection of ‘there are no therapists,’ is sorely missed, despite having been cast and his scenes having been filmed. You actually have a few blink, and you’ll miss him shots throughout both sequels (Hugh Dancy appears during the fireworks scene in the background and the wedding, just off to the side). That he was cut, though, is a disappointment, as his conversations with Anastasia and Christian help guide them into working on their relationship.

Christian’s world is very different from Anastasia’s, even if she lives with her well-off roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford). She is uncomfortable around most of his wealthy excesses and tries to make it clear that she is not with him for his money. Christian, however, is not one to miss a chance to lavish those he cares about with extravagant gifts. Christian wants to offer Anastasia the world, as he is still navigating his path towards being in a relationship of equals – a “vanilla” relationship, as the two discuss after they get back together. Anastasia, however, wants to explore her sensuality, as she enjoyed certain aspects of their previous relationship. She wasn’t interested in being controlled.

But the world that Christian comes from is directly tied to his past, and it would love nothing more than to claw him back into it. This comes in the form of Elena, the woman who Anastasia rightly points out as a child abuser, but also in the form of Leila (Bella Heathcote). The former has never unhooked her claws from Christian, even as she parades around as his mother’s best friend. The latter, one of Christian’s subs, began to develop feelings for him. These feelings, which she mistook for love, are an obsession that drives her to try and kill Anastasia. Christian’s relationships with women are some of his most difficult ones, but it is clear that he trying to exert control in every aspect of his life so that he can create a protective cocoon around himself. For all his “love” of inflicting pain for pleasure in his dominant-submissive relationships, Christian is clearly pain-averse due to his childhood trauma.

Fifty Shades Darker is the point in the story where it becomes about more than just the sex – which, admittedly, was the series’ primary selling point. With each film having already toned down the number of sex scenes considerably at that, there was a bit more time to devote to the plot of the story that unfolds around those sex scenes. At its heart, the Fifty Shades trilogy is about two young people coming to terms with who they are and building off of one another as they craft a relationship. It is set against the backdrop of the wealthy and the elite, but it is little more than window dressing for the story to happen. It’s made abundantly clear that Anastasia doesn’t have to work, but she has spent her whole life imagining what she would do with it, and now she can. Those around her that truly get to know her are quick to realize that, despite Christian’s blatant interferences, she is intelligent, decisive, and effective, and even if she was promoted to her position long before she normally would have, she can do that job and does it well.

This film grants more screen time to several characters, such as Christian’s sister Mia (Rita Ora), who is quick to befriend Anastasia when she enters Christian’s life. In addition, Christian’s parents, Grace Trevelyan-Grey (Marcia Gay Harden) and Carrick Grey (Andrew Airlie), and their charitable efforts are highlighted, exploring how and why they came to adopt Christian in the first place. On the other hand, Elliot (Luke Grimes) is off-screen for most of the film with Kate, as they are on vacation during the vast majority of this film, but his brotherly bond with Christian is not wasted when they finally show back up.

Jason Taylor (Max Martini), as Christian’s bodyguard, is a constant presence, as he is almost always at Christian’s side, but Fifty Shades Darker is not afraid to lay out that he also forms a relationship with Anastasia. Taylor’s big moment, which truly shifts the ground between the two, is when he calls out her first name in a bid to convince her to come with him back to the penthouse. While Anastasia is loath to listen because she is truly upset about other things, the impact of his words is not lost on her. She didn’t go with him, but the pair clearly had a closer friendship from then on. We are also finally introduced to the rest of Christian’s inner circle, including Gail Jones (Fay Masterson), his housekeeper, and Ros Bailey (Robinne Lee), the VP of his company and his right hand.

For Anastasia, as she steps into the world of Seattle Independent Publishing (SIP), we are introduced to a slew of her coworkers. The first and most notable is Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who, due to his usual roles (not to mention his character’s name), is the true antagonist of the series. His character is actually introduced briefly in the first book, but certain scenes were rearranged from the series during its adaptation so that plotlines could be streamlined into a coherent storyline from beginning to end. His interest in Anastasia is clear, and while she is gentle but firm, those around him clearly see what those interests are and are uncomfortable. When Jack finally makes his move, insistent that he is entitled to have Anastasia, he is quick to find that she is not somebody he could easily victimize and ends up hoisted by his own petard with a twisted hand and a knee to the groin in one of the film’s best scenes.

Anastasia’s closest coworker, and friend, is Hannah (Ashleigh LaThrop), who is a bit nervous when Anastasia is promoted so quickly, though Anastasia is quick to point out that she doesn’t expect her to get her coffee like a gopher unless she’s getting some for herself and wants to. How Anastasia streets Hannah is in stark contrast to how Jack treated all of them and is there to show that, despite her windfall, she is fundamentally a good, honest, competent person and boss. Elizabeth “Liz” Morgan (Amy Price-Francis) is the head of HR for SIP, while Jerry Roach (Bruce Altman) is the President of SIP. The former, much like Hannah, is wary of Jack, but that doesn’t stop her from all but pushing Anastasia at her. The latter is introduced after Anastasia’s promotion and is shown to be an encouraging boss, urging her to consider down the path that she is on.

By the time each conflict begins to unfold, Fifty Shades Darker has established the threat (whether it be Leila, Elena, or Jack), with how they impact the tone of the film during their brief, tense screentime. Leila, especially, makes Anastasia uncomfortable because she is an unknown threat. While she has preconceived ideas of Elena, and Jack is careful to obfuscate the threat that he represents, Anastasia is only vaguely aware of what kind of threat Leila may present. Her mere presence is a reminder of the kind of relationships that Christian was used to, after all.

Anastasia’s conflict with Elena is more of a psychological one, at least at first. Christian may view his time with her through rose-colored glasses, but Anastasia is fiercely protective of him when they finally begin to have a relationship for real. Elena is an active threat to Christian’s growth as a person, not to mention his psychological well-being. Anastasia tries to tolerate Elena’s existence in Christian’s life because she wants to trust him – just as she wants Christian to trust her and her choices. This, of course, comes to a head as Elena goes out of her way to try and sabotage Christian and Anastasia’s relationship every chance that she gets, only to end up losing in the end. Quite dramatically.

This entry also seeks to build on the relationships between Anastasia and Christian’s family. While they don’t spend much time on screen together, it is evident that she is taking time to get to know Mia, who even calls Anastasia to get advice on a birthday present for Christian. When the whole group gathers, three times over the course of the film, it is not shy about devoting its time to building these relationships.

Fifty Shades Darker had some breathing room, with the year-long interval between releases. During that time, anticipation had been building, and it seemed like those waiting in the wings could not wait to sit down and see how the story unfolded. While this film and Freed ultimately fell short of that first boon, the franchise was wildly successful, and each film made a hefty profit. Sometimes, all it takes is to tap into a market that is not used to being seen and give it what it wants.

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