In 2011, author E. L. James introduced the world to 50 Shades of Grey, an erotic romance Twilight fan fiction that centers on Anastasia Steele, a college graduate and virgin who gets into a deep sexual relationship with a controlling, manipulative, but rich and handsome, Christian Grey. The book was a huge seller, and you know how Hollywood runs, thus a film was officially made in February 2015. The movie was a critical disaster; however, the film was a financial success. 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed also received horrendous reviews; however, the rabid fanbase kept the movies alive and get them over $1 billion dollars in total. There’s no denying the financial success of 50 Shades of Grey; however, the only thing audiences will truly remember about the films is boundary-pushing (but bland) sex scenes. These movies are bad and that’s me putting it nicely. Why is the 50 Shades franchise so bad? Let’s dig deeper into this cinematic mess.
Here’s the thing, I never read the books. Based on the critical reception, many have deemed the books to be equally horrendous; however, that doesn’t mean that the movies had to be as well. One of the prime reasons that these films were such a critical misfire was due to having the author onboard. Based on Sam Taylor-Johnson’s account – who was the director of the first film – James wasn’t the easiest person to work with, as it’s clear that the author wasn’t too keen on deviating from her novels: “It was difficult, I’m not going to lie,” Taylor-Johnson, 47, told Porter magazine of working with James. “We definitely fought, but they were creative fights and we would resolve them. We would have proper on-set barneys, and I’m not confrontational, but it was about finding a way between the two of us, satisfying her vision of what she’d written as well as my need to visualize this person on screen, but, you know, we got there.”
Keeping the artist ensured that the movie wouldn’t turn out to be The Shining, in which 50 Shades won’t strongly deviate from the source material. However, the problems that were in the books clearly transferred over to the big screen since there’s essentially little plot in any of the three films. The first film is about their quickly developed relationship. The pieces are there to make it interesting. Anastasia is a virgin. Christian is a playboy. How this guy would get into this girl’s pants could be a fun concept if done right. One of the problems is that Christian is essentially a psychopath. He’s controlling, manipulative, and everything a woman shouldn’t want in a guy, thus it’s extremely hard to root for Christian when he’s such an a**hole. In turn, Anastasia is a bland and unlikeable character. She comes across as gold digger since she doesn’t have much issues with the way Christian is.
Christian never changes throughout the three films. Sure, Anastasia complains here and there, but there’s never any consequences for his disturbing behavior. Exploring Christian’s mental and physical abuse could’ve been another compelling aspect to dive into. But the film never truly gets to the root of his problems. Sure, throughout the series, we get a better understanding of Christian “I’m 50 Shades f**ked up” Grey is, but the franchise never tries to fix Christian and his problems. 50 Shades is softcore pornography. The storytelling, plot, and characters come second. Interesting ideas are thrown into the mix but are never given attention.
The “stalker” from the second film feels placed in the movie to try and give 50 Shades Darker stakes, but it’s clear that the movie isn’t interesting in being a Fatal Attraction knockoff. Then, there’s Anastasia’a boss, who turns out to be a crazed kidnapper. What! This isn’t even given a full focus of the final film as it’s mostly about Christian and Anastasia on vacation having sex. The core of the movies follow the most toxic relationship in perhaps cinematic history (I haven’t seem every film in the world so I can’t confirm this notion) and tries to deem Christian’s behavior as okay because he’s rich and handsome. We hate the characters because they never change, there’s no plot that allows audiences to truly connect with them, and bless the hearts of Dakota Johnson and Jamie Doran, but they absolutely have no chemistry. This is about sex, but the film can’t go too far or it’ll get an NC-17 rating so we’re subjected to bland, vanilla sex that doesn’t come close to being worth the price of admission. We’re forced to suffer through meaningless plots because the filmmakers need to pad out the runtime. 50 Shades fails to even be so bad it’s good. It’s a horrendous franchise that’s thankfully over.