The “Fifty Shades” franchise once lived at the very center of popular culture as a publishing phenomenon then as a blockbuster movie. Interest in the shenanigans of slap ‘n tickle enthusiasts Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey waned for the second film instalment. Now we’re at the third and final movie, “Fifty Shades Freed,” and it feels like breaking up with someone you know you’ll never see again. You feel relief that it is over mixed with regret that you wasted all that time in the first place.
Things get underway when Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) tie the knot; on an altar this time, not in the bedroom. Their glamorous French honeymoon is disturbed when Ana wants to go topless on the beach while Christian, that blushing flower, wants her covered up, for his eyes only. “Do you want to be ogled by every guy on the beach?” he whines.
That speed bump aside, things are mostly status quo for the newlyweds. I said mostly. This is a “Fifty Shades” movie, so it’s not all happily ever after. Bedroom bondage soon leads to a pregnancy that leaves Christian upset. (The least I think he’s upset. It’s hard to tell with Dornan.) “You’re going to take her from me aren’t you?” he whispers to her pregnant belly. Looks like he’s not ready to turn the Red Room of Pain into a nursery just yet.
Sparks fly as she tries to assert herself.
Meanwhile Ana’s former-boss-turned-stalker Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) ups his game as Christian discovers a dark secret from his past.
There’s more, but nobody really goes to the “Fifty Shades” movies for the plot so let’s move on.
The sexiest thing about “Fifty Shades Freed” is the way Ana handles the Audi in a high-ish speed chase through the streets of Seattle. Sure clothes are doffed and handcuffed snapped shut but there is so little fusion between these two allegedly steamy lovers it’s as though they have never met in real life and are acting to green screen versions of each other.
The hour-and-forty-five-minute running time is padded out with music montages—including one interlude where Christian plays piano and sings “Maybe I’m Amazed” to less than amazing effect—and time wasters like a flirty architect subplot. It’s part erotic adventure, part revenge story and part “Lifestyles of the Rich and Kinky.” It’s all of those things and yet, somehow, less than the sum of its well toned parts.
The occasional moment of camp fun—“We don’t have any restraints,” says a security guard while manhandling a suspect. “We do,” offers Anna.—are buffered by elegantly shot but empty moments that fill the time between sex scenes.
“Fifty Shades Freed” comes at an interesting time. The story of a rich, powerful man who tries to control every situation with only minor pushback from the woman in his life seems like yesterday’s tale in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. The movies, I think, are meant to be sexy romps, a bit of fun, but at the end of the series have proven themselves to be ten pounds of sex toys in a five pound bag.