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Fifty Shades Freed
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Thriller cliches in ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ distract from S&M roots

(Doane Gregory/Universal Pictures)
LISTEN: Thriller cliches in 'Fifty Shades Freed' distracts from S&M roots

First off, I want to express my appreciation to the Fifty Shades franchise for not turning the final book in this series into two full-length movies, a la Twilight, Harry Potter, etc. A trilogy of novels indeed translated into, only, a trilogy of movies.

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An even better improvement might have been to turn all three of the books into a single movie, but I’ll take my small victories where I can.

To its credit, the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon introduced the practice of bondage and sadomasochism into mainstream culture like no other vehicle. The books were worldwide sensations, and to a lesser degree, so were the movies.

I can’t speak to the quality of the books because I haven’t read them, but I can say that the fatal flaw of the film franchise is that it doesn’t trust its own subject matter. There is plenty of dramatic material to be had in exploring the psychology of an S&M relationship, but the movie-makers apparently feel the need to juice the story with soap-opera melodramatics and, even worse, thriller cliches. This is especially true in “Fifty Shades Freed.”

The second Fifty Shades installment, “Fifty Shades Darker,” ended with billionaire hunk Christian Grey proposing marriage to our heroine Anastasia (Anna) Steele, while her jilted former boss (and failed rapist) swearing revenge. “Freed” picks up right where “Darker” ended, with a blandly beautiful wedding and a blandly beautiful honeymoon in Paris — hey, look! the Eiffel Tower! the Louvre! — and the French Riviera, which Anna poetically calls “boobs in boobland.”

That dreamy honeymoon has to be cut short when that awful former boss Jack breaks into Grey Enterprises and steals all sorts of personal information about Anna’s whereabouts. Thus begins an hour and a half of Jack intermittently terrorizing Anna in “Fifty Shades Freed.”

“How the hell are ya, Anna?”

What follows are attempted kidnappings, knife play, actual kidnappings, car chases, hostage-taking, physical beatings, and even gunplay. Don’t you hate it when all this action and plotting gets in the way of your softcore porn? I know I do, especially when it’s done as ineptly as they are in “Fifty Shades Freed.”

That’s not to say there aren’t numerous episodes of low-grade titillation, involving handcuffs, leg cuffs, and blindfolds, but they tend to be very short scenes and they’re definitely not explicit. Grey long ago told Anna he wasn’t into “vanilla sex,” but “Fifty Shades Freed” raises the question “Can there be vanilla S&M?” And the answer seems to be yes.

What we get in between bad guy Jack’s ongoing physical threats and the relatively tame sex scenes are spectacular displays of wealth (“rich porn?”)

“You own this?”

“We own this.”

“I just can’t believe this is my life. That I get to live with you.”

“It meant nothing to me, before you.”

And scintillating conversations like this:

“You do want to have kids someday right?”

“Someday, sure.”

“You don’t really sound sure.”

“You know what I am sure about? That’s great streak.”

“Christian, do you not want to have kids?”

“Of course, one day. Just not now. I’m not ready to share you with anyone.”

Don’t you think this topic should have come up before they got married? No matter. He’s gorgeous and rich, right? It should come as no surprise, after that conversation, that a pregnancy is on the horizon. After all, as Anna at one point hilariously tells her husband, babies tend to happen after sex and we’ve been having a lot of sex.

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Billionaire Grey remains a control freak throughout most of the series, and not that much changes in this finale. The most compelling aspect of the Fifty Shades films is how Anna navigates the tricky terrain of an S&M relationship without losing her identity. It’s basically a three-movie negotiation she has with a rich, jerky boyfriend.

And in the end, she gets what she wants. My question is “Was it worth it?” Millions of readers, and viewers, apparently say “Yes.”

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