For three sleek but frequently frustrating films, the "Fifty Shades" trilogy (based on author E.L. James' unlikely worldwide bestsellers) have spun their wheels telling a BDSM-laced love story between two people who know how to get each other off but otherwise have nothing in common. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is intelligent, strong-willed, forward-thinking and career-driven. She does not suffer fools gladly and, for the most part, does what she wants when she wants. That she would put up with kinky, selfish, emotionally stunted billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for three pictures2015's "Fifty Shades of Grey
," 2017's "Fifty Shades Darker
," and now final chapter "Fifty Shades Freed"is strictly at odds with her outspoken, individualistic personality. The heart, alas, wants what it wants. In this instance, one wishes it would want to bid Christian a fond but permanent farewell.
In short order, Anastasia has married Christian and returned to a promotion as new fiction editor at reputable publishing house Seattle Independent Press. As she grows acquainted to a new life of lavish luxury and a personal bodyguard in Sawyer (Brant Daugherty), a wrench is thrown in Ana and Christian's happily-ever-after: someone is out to stalk and sabotage them, first with a planted explosive device at Grey Enterprises that cuts short their honeymoon and later with a tense car chase through the city. Contradicting surveillance footage reveals there may be two culprits, one of them Ana's bitter, recently fired former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) and the other an unidentified female who may or may not be in cahoots.
"Fifty Shades Freed," like its predecessors, has the same handful of things going for it. Dakota Johnson (2016's "How to Be Single
") is a radiant Anastasia, giving this decidedly feminist role more layers than anyone could have imagined. John Schwartzman's (2017's "The Book of Henry
") cinematography is pretty and unblemished, each shot impeccably framed and lit. The soundtrack (featuring Sia, Ellie Goulding, Hailee Steinfeld, Julia Michaels, The Spencer Lee Band, Bishop Briggs' sultry cover of INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart," and even Jamie Dornan singing an a cappella version of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed") is terrific, underscoring countless well-edited, time-padding montages. The longer the meandering narrative plays out, though, the more it once again becomes clear this sudsy material didn't need three filmsor barely one.
Director James Foley (2007's "Perfect Stranger
") and writer Niall Leonard (E.L. James' husband) have made what amounts to hackneyed fan fiction, a pile-up of lame subplots in search of purpose, supposedly racy but really rather tame sex scenes not half as erotic as they think they are, and overwrought conflicts featuring a ticking time bomb, an attempted abduction at knifepoint, and even someone being held for ransom as they sit tied and gagged next to a railroad track. It might sound like an average episode of "The Young and the Restless" mixed with a "Dudley Do-Right" cartoon short, but no, it's a $55-million Hollywood production.
The thriller-lite aspects are, of course, a way to spice up a romance that has overstayed its welcome. It's difficult to get wrapped up in the relationship between Ana and Christian when they are clearly not right for each other. Ana is blessedly assertive and makes it clear she loves her job and will not be quitting just because she is married to a billionaire. The second Christian finds out she has chosen to keep Steele as her professional last name, though? He races over to her place of business, barges into a meeting Ana is having with an author, and petulantly starts berating her over not using Grey as her last name. Soon after, while away in New York, Christian blows up Ana's phone when he finds out she decided to grab a drink after work with best friend Kate (Eloise Mumford). When she is attacked in their home upon returning, he blames herbecause, you know, her wanting to have a life outside of his clutches had everything to do with the suspect breaking in.
"You are not a kid anymore, you need to grow the fuck up," Ana sternly tells Christian in a long-awaited come-to-Jesus moment. Boy, does he ever, but will he? The tale of a self-assured young woman who nonetheless cannot quit her possessive, immature beau, "Fifty Shades Freed" looks and sounds great but is done in by dopey theatrics, a suffocating male protagonist who rarely trusts his partner to make her own decisions, and uncharismatic sex scenes between them that barely tap the envelope let alone push it. As Ana and Christian face the next chapter of their lives together at film's end, it is difficult to shake the strong suspicion their future is also, eventually, going to lead to an inevitable divorce. Christian is simply too needy and exhausting, and all the money in the world cannot disguise one tough, hard fact: Ana deserves better.