I’m going to have to preface this review with a Surgeon General’s Warning: I may get a bit crass with my vernacular, but I promise I will maintain my professional integrity and provide my honest review of this film.
Fifty Shades Freed (2018) is the third and final installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy that should have been dead in the water after the first one; but somehow a sequel got made, and now we have the threequel. I was actually astonished when watching Fifty Shades Darker (2017) that they could make a sequel even worse than something as unwatchable as Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). This actually peaked my interest more when it came to Freed: I wanted to see if director James Foley could outdo himself again and deliver an even worse movie than Darker (Foley directed Darker and Freed back-to-back because Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of the first movie, hightailed it outta this franchise after the lackluster reaction).
The movie opens with a montage of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) getting married and it’s lovely if you have no idea what nonsense these two have put each other through in the last two movies. In that respect alone, this movie is off to a whacky start: the despondent BDSM philanthropist is marrying the co-dependent-as-much-as-she’s-trying-not-to-be editor (I think? – I couldn’t tell you what Anastasia does for a career because she goes to work maybe twice in the movie and when she’s at work, she leaves after five minutes when Christian calls her whining about something) who flip-flops on just about every revelation she has in this trilogy. The movie eventually sorta’ becomes about their marriage conflicts – a mirror of their “relationship” conflicts in the first movie and their continuing “relationship” conflicts in the second. This entire trilogy goes through the same cycle of emotional beats almost like clockwork: Anastasia does something Christian doesn’t like and Christian is verbal about it; Anastasia says something snarky and does what she wants and then Christian cuffs her to the bed and “teaches her manners”; she tells him not everything can be solved with sex and butt plugs even though, two minutes before, she was in the Red Room calling him ‘sir.’ That is the quintessence of the Fifty Shades trilogy and I spent six hours of my life enduring it. I kid you not, every scene ends in either sex or the opening of a plot point that gets swept under a rug by the next scene. Call me crazy, but I feel like any movie that uses sex as the main plot device – the crutch the movie stands on – is just pornography. Except in porn, the sex has a payoff. Fifty Shades is porn without any of the payoff. I don’t even think the characters in the movie have any sort of emotional climax together, like a romance movie probably should include if you’re trying to sell this shell of a relationship.
The entire trilogy hinges on the relationship of Christian and Ana – two characters you couldn’t care less about. Every conversation reveals Christian’s toxicity. He berates Ana because she doesn’t change her email to Anastasia Grey; he thinks teasing Ana with a vibrator will make her as angry as he is when she doesn’t answer his six calls; and Ana just keeps trudging along because every other scene Christian does something sweet like play a piano. I guess playing a cover of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ completely absolves someone of reprimanding their wife for taking off her bikini top on a nude French beach. That actually happens in the movie. Christian is rubbing sunscreen on Ana and she asks him to take her top off and he says, “Absolutely not, you’re showing enough skin as it is.” She obviously does it anyway and he takes her back to their hotel and they f**k about it – problem solved(?). I feel like I keep repeating myself but it’s just a testament to how these movies do not even attempt to develop their characters. Christian Grey is toxicity in human form and never changes, as much as Ana thinks she’s changing him. The movie seems to imply to women, “Your man may be a dick now, but you can change him!” No, that’s not how it works. He’s a jerk and you need to drop him like a bad habit. Immediately. I think my favorite moment in this movie is when Christian and Ana have a “conflict” over whether or not they want kids AFTER already getting married and going on their honeymoon. Call me crazy, but I feel like that is something you bring up once or twice before tying the knot. But what do I know, I just review movies.
What kept me from walking out of the theater was the fact that nothing in this trilogy surprises me anymore. These characters behave the same way, scene after scene, and there is no attempt at redeeming Christian (as if he were any degree of redeemable) or empowering Ana. They play off each other like high schoolers and even that is not a surprise. It’s not a surprise that this Twilight fan fiction plays like a high school romance because Twilight revolves around a high school romance. You can’t even fault the movies/books for being trash because they’re all based off trash in the first place. I’ve gone so far as to read both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey and I can honestly attest to both being laugh-out-loud horribly written.
It feels like this movie goes on forever because it never stops picking up plot threads, even with only ten minutes left in the run-time, and continuously tries to take itself seriously. In a span of an hour and forty minutes, this movie opens up plot lines with Ana’s friend Mia (Rita Ora) and her boyfriend’s infidelity, Christian possibly cheating on Ana, Christian’s childhood, and Jack (Eric Johnson) the stalker’s convoluted revenge scheme. Jack is Ana’s former boss who assaulted her in Fifty Shades Darker, so Christian did the casual thing and bought his company, fired him, and put Ana in his position. Now he wants revenge and stalks Ana and Christian. At one point he tails them on the highway and Christian tells Ana to lose him like this is a Jason Bourne movie. I bet you can guess how the scene ends once they lose him… with sex. Jack also breaks into Grey Enterprises and steals some of Christian’s valuables and they have security footage of him doing everything… and they just don’t go to the police about it. Jack could have been the silver lining in this movie, but the movie trips over its own two feet when trying to build any sort of tension and just completely sidebars Jack’s plot so Christian can insist Ana fire her “attractive” co-workers. Literally, Christian is rattled by every man who makes eye contact with Ana. I’d be laughing harder if it weren’t so pathetic that this is what gets green-lit in Hollywood.
When the “A Plot” is wrapped up in the most abrupt and anticlimactic way possible (ironic, this being a sex movie), the movie just decides to open a can of worms and pour on a ton of Grey family background that would have been ten times more useful to the plot if it happened within the first 20 minutes and not the last. The movie just suddenly ends with a quick montage of the “good times” between Christian and Ana. None of the remotely interesting conflicts in this movie are resolved. You don’t even learn Jack’s true motivations until after he’s already been defeated, and by then it does nothing to advance the plot because the credits roll within five minutes of that reveal. Despite such a trainwreck of events, I really do need to hand it to director James Foley for ending the Fifty Shades trilogy with an homage to The Godfather (1972). THAT takes gaul.
I honestly could not tell you which of these three movies is the worst of the trilogy because they are all as deplorable as the characters and their relationships. It’s almost brilliant how there is so much set-up in Fifty Shades Freed (2018) with absolutely no payoff. This trilogy is a textbook example of toxicity and internalized misogyny and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy to have to take six hours of their life to watch this excuse for a saga. Once again, the soundtrack is enjoyable with the selection of A-list musicians, but literally nothing else in this movie or the entire trilogy is worth your time. At least now I can rest easy knowing I never need to see another Fifty Shades movie again… until the inevitable reboot.