Three Valentine’s Days later, it’s finally over. Jamie Dornan has been humiliated and audiences have been punished, but by this point you know what you’re in for. In order to get anything from Fifty Shades Freed, the climax to this improbable trilogy, you have to just hold up your hands and submit. Christian Grey gets his happy ending. The rest of us will have to get our rocks off elsewhere.
Picking off where Darker left off, the soap opera romance is in full swing. There’s still the odd trip to the Red Room, sure, but Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Dornan) have entered the domesticity of matrimony, and now have to deal with boring things like boundaries, communication and the question of a family. While she has fun throwing around that bagged-a-billionaire sass, he pouts about her not changing the surname in her work email address, still a weirdly petty version of a domineering alpha male. But in the shadows, ready to spoil the marital bliss, is Anatasia’s ex-boss and smirking panto villain Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). There’s blackmail, kidnapping and an actual act of explosive sabotage, one that’s just brushed aside a scene later.
Fifty Shades approaches plot and tone with the logic of an improv show, shifting from tasteful smut to fake-cute romance to daytime TV melodrama. It moves with the consistency and believably of, I don’t know, Twilight fan fiction? Characters appear on screen, and five minutes later you realise you don’t know a thing about them. But who cares, there’s always a Dornan shirtless scene coming up, the six pack equivalent of a Men in Black zapper.
There was a way to do these films with a bit of fun, mixing the self-conscious smut with pulpy, silly soap story swings, making the most of the rare sex in the multiplex. But the series is sunk by its utter seriousness, its belief in its own interestingness, and by the miles-apart chemistry between the two lovers.
Dornan’s got his face on the side of Belfast buses, but in front of the camera he emotes the rich personality of neglected Nutty Krust. Grey, of course, isn’t so much a character as a piece of LinkedIn wank material, which means the actor has to work extra hard to mine lost reserves of magnetism. But it’s a struggle, Dornan delivering his lines like a distracted man reading out the menu at a fast food counter. Every time he says Anatasia’s name, it’s as if he’s reading it for the very first time. Johnson remains the series’ greatest asset, bringing some wry, playful energy, the only spark of life in what looks and sounds like one of those identi-glossy ads they pack in before trailers.
As the series marches towards its big finish, its essential conservatism becomes more obvious, the S&M kink folded into wife-and-kids harmony. With its broken prince, and the young waif who saves him with her love, Fifty Shades is just another fairy tale. Beauty and the Beast with butt plugs. Conor Smyth