Have our societal standards fallen so low that we’ll allow just any form of smut on the screen? The final film in the series of films based on the books by E.L. James, Fifty Shades Freed, indulges in the worst kind of pornographic fantasy to mar the screen in recent memory. I’m not taking about the film’s sexual content, oh no, I’m talking about the grotesque form of capitalism porn that runs through the film’s tone deaf escapism. While James Foley’s second film in the Fifty Shades series features plenty of sexual situations and nudity, it abandons the interest in BDSM that drove interest in the series in the first place in favor of the kind of sexual situations that might deemed kinky by a Republican from Utah.
Fifty Shades Freed opens up with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) exchanging wedding vows before heading off on their honeymoon, a journey in a private jet that takes the characters to Paris and French Rivera before the credits are done. It presents Fifty Shades Freed, as well as its predecessors, as movies rooted in class fantasy, as if some hunky heir can swoop into your life and rescue from a life of mediocrity and the only price you have to pay is a little bit of kinky sex.
In the previous film, Christian purchased the publishing firm that Anastasia worked at and fired her former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) after an attempt sexual assault. Hyde is now consumed with vengeance and is out to terrorize Christian and Anastasia in myriad of ways, including breaking and entering, arson, and kidnapping of a minor, unmemorable character. Further complicating the relationship of these newlyweds is the fact that Anastasia finds out she’s pregnant. Apparently, this loving couple didn’t discuss the prospect of children prior to exchanging wedding vows and the news isn’t warmly greeted by Christian, who accuses his bride of choosing their unborn child over him. It’s another example of Fifty Shades Freed taking place in a world that doesn’t resemble reality and characters who behave like some kind of alien creatures.
It’s that almost alien sensibility that makes Fifty Shade Freed somewhat watchable even though it’s a movie of escalating absurdity and flaccid eroticism. Director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard (the husband of the books’ author and the movie’s producer E.L. James) strike a tone that is almost to the level of Airplane! or The Naked Gun. The actors, bless their contractually obligated hearts, play these bizarre moments in complete earnestness, never cracking the serious façade that the movie is so desperate to maintain.
Compounding the film’s absurdism is the way with which it relies on coincidence for so much of its plot functions. It just so happens that Christian and the nefarious Jack Hyde were each in the same orphanage around Detroit, and that ludicrous backstory has the successful Harvard educated Hyde seeking revenge on Christian for the life of privilege that he believes should’ve been his. Giving any of this stuff just a second of thought results in bewildered laughter. The dramatic (if we’re being generous) conclusion of Fifty Shades Freed involves a kidnapping perpetrated by Hyde on such a minor supporting character that it’s difficult to remember who this character is before their abduction has been resolved.
The first film in the series directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey, was film of uneven tone, a behind the scenes struggle between Taylor-Johnson and E.L. James that ended with Taylor-Johnson removed even though the first film was a runaway success. The sequels were shot back-to-back with Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley stepping into direct and James’ husband adapting her books. These two sequels massively shift the perspective of the film’s sexual gaze, transforming a series intended for women to be dominated by the male gaze – Foley’s lens pays much more attention to Dakota Johnson’s naked body than the chiseled muscles of her male costar. Combined with the film’s borderline parodic tone, it makes you wonder who these last two Fifty Shades movies are for. Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t a good movie, but it obviously spoke to its audience in a way that these two sequels are just utterly incapable of.
Fifty Shades Freed is as sexy as a pie fight, and just as funny. Its power as a fantasy isn’t rooted in its sexual situations but in its form as class escapism. Whips and chains aren’t the taboo that has appeal. It’s the idea of a hunk, who being adopted is freed from the familial guilt of any ethical lapses in his inherited wealth, with an ample bank account that can purchase your employer and free from your awful boss; a man who can swoop in and take you from a small apartment into a luxury penthouse full of all the amenities, and sex on yachts in international waters along with day trips to Aspen where he can sit behind the piano and serenade you with Wings songs. Fifty Shades Freed is simply a bumbling work of class fantasy masquerading as would-be erotica. Over the course of three films, the Fifty Shades series devolved from a BDSM romance with a conflicted personality to a bland wealth fantasy with plenty of T&A and unintentional humor.