The first film adaptation of "mummy porn" global best-seller 50 Shades of Grey had audiences worldwide blushing, yawning and, in some cases, laughing their way through the soft-core, erotic romantic drama. For some it feels like yesterday, others not long enough.
Fans eager to re-acquaint themselves with Anastasia Steele and her on-again/off-again billionaire boyfriend Christian Grey will be able to tell you it's only two years since the original film and fuss. In that time the franchise has acquired new director James Foley, who comes with a list of impressive television show credentials, and new screenwriter Niall Leonard, husband of the book's author, E.L. James, who also comes with television form.
Given the reportedly fraught relationship between E.L. James and the original film's director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, it's no surprise changes have been made. But credit to Taylor-Johnson and original screenwriter Kelly Marcel; they to some extent managed to tone down the novel's cringeworthy dialogue and elevate the characters beyond Mills and Boon-style cliches.
The new team retain this tone and a familiar story, although this time the characters switch roles and it's Anastasia who sets the rules, and re-negotiates the terms of their relationship. If anything, Fifty Shades Darker feels lighter this time, with Anastasia and Christian's dysfunctional relationship for the most part seeing them preoccupied with dining, sailing, dancing and texting.
Okay, there's some sex. But we're more immune to the shock value of the Red Room of Pain and the nudity and spanking -- and yes, the genre of sex is similar -- so now more interest lies in the how the characters develop.
The mysterious Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) shares more of his past and there's a halfhearted attempt to introduce a collection of disturbed ex-girlfriends into the fray (including Kim Basinger as "Mrs Robinson"). It just gets a little dull though watching Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) decide whether she wants to be in a relationship with a sadist. While just shorter in length than the original film, it feels longer -- if only Anastasia had done a simple pros and cons list.
Most importantly, Fifty Shades Darker is as slick and glossy as the original, and filled with plenty of beautiful, rich people and enough kinky sex -- which is really the point of it all. It's saucy, forgettable escapism. It is what fans expect and what they've been delivered, although they may be pleased to know the cheesy post-coital piano playing has been laid to rest. Thank goodness.
Screening now, rated R18.