The third film sired from author E.L. James’ original “Fifty Shades” trilogy arrives in theaters Friday, and critics are largely miffed that Universal Pictures opted for such a conventional closure. “Fifty Shades Freed” begins with the marriage of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the billionaire who introduced her to BDSM. Time and IndieWire (grade B) were notably kinder than most.
“Because Ana and Christian have already reached their happy equilibrium together, returning director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard must mine exterior sources of dramatic strain,” writes Screen Daily. Thus the narrative of their sexual power struggle is supplanted by thrown punches, racing sports cars, and even a kidnapping subplot. Still, reviewers were often disenchanted that the Greys have become just another procreating couple occupied with household concerns.
James followed her best-selling erotic trio with two more tomes told from Grey’s perspective, “Grey” (2015) and “Darker” (2017). In a February 5 interview on the UK talk show “Lorraine,” Dornan said he felt he was “too old” to continue with the franchise. When asked whether he was done playing Grey, he responded, “Yeah, I think so.”
“Fifty Shades Freed” began screening for press this week, and the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page has garnered just six reviews (translating to a 17 percent fresh rating). Predecessors “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades Darker” resulted in a combined $952 billion at the global box office, although the former also won Worst Picture at the 2016 Razzie Awards.
Read on for what the critics had to say.
“Finally, the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon has yielded a disarming comedy that makes this ridiculous material fun to watch… Ana is at last able to demand to hold the reins from time to time — a narrative turn that manages to frame their marriage as an empowering structure for women…Johnson, radiant and committed, gives Ana a certain confidence and ease that she’d never had before.”
“A Swarovski-dipped series closer that takes no chances, and spares no luxury expense, in giving Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey the dream wedding and nightmare honeymoon period their fans have been anticipating for years… What began, however glossily, as an ambiguity-laced power struggle between two people from separate social and sexual worlds has devolved into a far less intriguing victory lap for an exquisite couple that wants, and can afford, most of the same things… The series’ former tart strain of battle-of-the-sexes comedy has bled almost entirely out of the enterprise.”
“Can sex, referred to here as ‘kinky fuckery,’ really be this dull, this sanitized, this devoid of human interest?…At this point, Johnson and Dornan can’t even go through the motions of spank-pant-rinse-repeat with any conviction.”
“Layer[s] a damp-squib thriller subplot beneath what appears to be an ad campaign for the one-percent lifestyle…As popular as this window-fogging franchise has become, its flaccid finale is likely critic proof.”
“The honeymoon will have to be put on hold as the couple flies home to stumble through the clumsy machinations of a preposterous howler of a thriller between bouts of vigorous humping and Anastasia’s uneasy awakening into the world of being a kept woman. E.L. James, 1; Feminism, 0…[‘Fifty Shades Freed’ is] kitsch that looks in the mirror and deludes itself into thinking it sees art staring back. D+”
“The real revelation is that Ana has as big a boner for money as Christian does…By the end of ‘Freed,’ Christian and Ana are no longer a rich man and his middle-class girlfriend, but two rich people telling the tale of how and why they got rich to each other. Doesn’t get more deviant than that.”
“It’s hard to find compliments for Jamie Dornan beyond ‘very athletic’—but from start to finish, one can’t give Johnson enough credit for making these asinine movies work as well as they do. Her performance is about more than just the girl next door shedding her inhibitions for another kinky act…you can see her making smart acting choices at every turn, somehow taking the gobbledygook of this preposterous story and humanizing it.”
“This movie is ridiculous–luxuriously so. That doesn’t make it bad, no matter what professional critics–most of whom savaged the two earlier films–are likely to tell you. ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ is what many people would call, in an attempt to prove that they know a good movie when they see one, a ‘guilty pleasure,’ though I rail against that idea in principle. Nothing that brings pleasure ought to be reflexively entwined with guilt.”
“Less a film than a closing coda buffed up, blinged out and spread thin throughout a feature-length runtime, Fifty Shades Freed offers fans of the three-strong series a chance to send off their favourite characters with all the opulence and tastefully soft-core decadence they’ve come to expect from previous installments, gorging on the series’ luxurious embellishments while all but jettisoning any hint of narrative tension or engagement along the way.”
“The ‘Fifty Shades’ franchise concludes with Fifty Shades Freed,’ which provides mainly a sense of relief, rather than the orgasmic climax promised on the posters… Christian — the man who can make women’s lady bits tingle just by touching their faces — is, despite all his macho bluster, a changed man: married, domesticated, even (how funny!) attempting to cook.”
“After the first two tempestuous movie kink-a-thons from author E.L. James seduced the world box-office and made off with over a billion dollars, ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ is here to zip up, give you a quick peck on the cheek, and disappear. The whole experience has been like a bad Tinder date that lasted three years.”
Watch the trailer for “Fifty Shades Freed” below.