“What do you have that I don’t?” When in “Fifty Shades Of Grey 2: Dangerous Love” the most clichéd of all questions about the love story is asked, the abandoned woman stands in the room of her successor with a gun in her hand: While director Sam Taylor-Johnson from the first volume of E.L. James’ fabulously successful trivial-erotic trilogy made for a surprisingly sensitive romantic drama above all else, new director James Foley stays closer to the style of the original and accordingly moves the second round in the love wrestling between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey even closer to a soap opera. Great dramatic gestures, sudden and unexplainable twists and poor exaggerations keep a narrative going in which the conflicts of the first film are chewed over again – including the chic and tasteful sex scenes, which are far too tame for real provocation, with their delicate touch of SM, as well as the extensive indulgence in luxury. But this time (unfortunately!) without any trace of irony or humor.
It’s already a few weeks ago that the elevator doors closed and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) left billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). But at the opening of an exhibition of her photographer friend José (Victor Rasuk), the spurned man suddenly stands before her again and asks for a new beginning. The incredibly rich entrepreneur with the dominant BDSM tendencies and a dark past promises: “No rules, no punishments, no secrets! So the two agree on a “flower sex relationship”, but the new togetherness is put to the test again and again. So he takes her, of all people, to the beauty salon of Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the mature friend of the family who once seduced 15-year-old Christian and introduced him to the world of sadomasochism. And when Leila (Bella Heathcote), a mentally disturbed, submissive ex of Christian, lies in wait for her, Ana once again reaches her limits…
The film begins with a nightmare, as if the original title of the sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker”, was to be illustrated, according to which everything here is a bit darker than in the first part. In fact, some very serious topics are addressed – including stalking, child abuse, harassment at work and emotional dependence. But this is not a psychological drama, nor is it an over-the-top thriller like James Foley’s earlier work “Fear – When Love is Scary” with Mark Wahlberg or “Seduction of a Stranger” with Halle Berry. The reenactments of Christian’s ex-“sub” Leila, the hostility of his “Mrs. Robinson” Elena and the laughable macho behaviour of Ana’s boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) remain purely functional disturbances of the main plot: They make the complicated relationship between Anastasia and Christian even more complicated – after all, there will be a third part for Valentine’s Day 2018 (the teaser for this will be shown in the middle of the credits of part 2, by the way).
While the billionaire with his “playroom” full of sex paraphernalia wanted to make the student (who now has a job as an assistant editor in a book publishing house) the submissive part in a contractually regulated BDSM relationship in the first part, he is now ready to suppress his sadistic side and get involved in a “vanilla” partnership. This time, the approach comes from the other side, so to speak, but the back and forth does not gain additional facets despite some new traumatic details from Christian’s past – from this point of view, nothing seems more superfluous than a third round of relationship wrangling. The new smart three-day beard suits Jamie Dornan (“Operation Anthropoid”) well, but his Christian Grey still has no depth, and his possessive behavior is all the more difficult to accept (who is going to say “I want you to marry me” when he proposes?) On the other hand, compared to Ana’s boss, he looks like a shining knight: If this Mr. Hyde gets pushy in a downright ridiculous scene and considers it the most normal thing in the world to exploit his position sexually, then we’re in pure soap opera overdrive – crazy eye rolling and slimy grin included.
Franchise newcomer Kim Basinger (Oscar for “L.A. Confidential”), who once in “9 ½ Weeks” got herself into a zeitgeisty high-gloss maelstrom of sexually charged power games and psychological dependencies, is at least allowed to keep her form outwardly as Elena, but in her few scenes she also has no chance to give her Mephisto figure real inscrutability. Thus, in the end, only Dakota Johnson (“How To Be Single”) is again equipped with a somewhat more complex role. In the first film, she succeeded in creating an astonishingly coherent and multi-layered portrait of a torn young woman, but here Anastasia sometimes has to change her mind so quickly that it is almost impossible to comprehend: First she refuses to take any harder line, then she says “Hit me”, in one moment she demands self-determination, only a little later she lets herself be ordered around seemingly without will. Even though screenwriter Niall Leonard is deadly serious, sometimes a mischievous smile seems to lurk in Johnson’s mouth, especially when Ana gets involved in one of Christian’s sex games and, stimulated in a special way, attends a Venetian-style masked ball or gets rid of her panties in a noble restaurant.
The panty acrobatics lead into a variation of the elevator scene from part 1, also the other sex interludes with the flattering light, the naked skin (not) presented with millimeter accuracy and the hit-suspicious cuddle pop underpainting are increasingly repeated and are equally far away from lust and love. The chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan is so good, however, that in some dramatic moments of the second half of the film, some real emotions actually shimmer out – and Marcia Gay Harden (Oscar for “Pollock”) also plays skilfully on the emotions keyboard as Christian’s mother. But “Dangerous Love” is most likely to give pleasure when one is seduced by its luxurious surface: On a trip on a yacht, at a lavish masked ball or when choosing a party dress – in such moments “Fifty Shades Of Grey 2” is nothing more than a somewhat different “Cinderella” fairy tale. After all.
Conclusion: “Fifty Shades Of Grey 2: Dangerous Love” is much closer in style to the original than the first film in the series. However, in this case this is rather not good news.