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The Latest in the Fifty Shades franchise: Still don't watch it with your family


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I planned to see "Fifty Shades Freed," the new "Fifty Shades" movie, with my ex-girlfriend, because I apparently thrive on uncomfortable situations. This close to Valentine's Day though, the idea seemed a little too masochistic, even for me. Christian Grey might have relished the idea, but he's way better at compartmentalizing than I am. Instead of my ex, I went with my dad—awkward for a different set of reasons.

Previously on the Softcore Adventures of Grey and Steele: At the conclusion of "Fifty Shades Darker," Christian Grey proposed to Anastasia Steele. They were excited to start their lives together, filled with stalkers, disturbed exes and hundreds of millions of dollars. Take the worst of First World Problems, divide it by the most annoying aspects of White People Problems, subtract the spice of BDSM and you have the latest "Fifty Shades."

Amazingly, the rough sex aspect so prevalent in the first two books/movies seems almost like an afterthought here. It's like when you're watching a Summer Blockbuster and you know that every 10-15 minutes there will be a huge action set piece with explosions and loud noises. The same structure applies to "Fifty Shades Freed," except instead of massive balls of fire we get Jamie Dornan's pubic thatch and Dakota Johnson taking off really expensive dresses and letting them fall to the floor. The sex feels perfunctory instead of erotic.

Here, our central couple has to learn to accept the things they cannot change about each other. Grey is always going to assert control because Steele is his favorite possession, and Steele is always going to be a bit flaky because she doesn't remotely understand Grey's pathology. Steele was a virgin when she met Grey, and he had never had a legit relationship with anyone else before, so nothing about their pairing really seems designed to withstand the pressures of actual marriage.

I read these books a few years ago and thought the writing was the most stilted and wooden I've come across in a bestselling series. E.L. James seems to have completely, irresponsibly (and with both hands) stolen the concept of her series from the far superior film, "Secretary," without capturing any of the nuance that movie has to offer. Since the "Fifty Shades" series started its life as fan fiction for "Twilight" lovers, it's easy to see this story was meant for soccer mom titillation more than creating a discussion between couples about BDSM fantasies.

Since Grey is rich and gorgeous, his behavior as a dom is supposedly sexy, but it flirts with the lines of abuse more than a responsible storyteller should allow. His emotional walls combined with Steele's naiveté make their relationship uneven and unhealthy. A sub/dom connection is a partnership, and there are too many moments (more in the books than the movies) where she's treated more like a Sugar Baby than a partner.

The movies are better than the books, for whatever that's worth. Dornan and Johnson have chemistry and seem like real people instead of masturbatory fantasies. There's a scene with butt plugs in "Fifty Shades Freed" that's also one of the most sex-positive moments I've ever seen in a mainstream film. I can't remotely say they're good movies, but if all you're after is giggles at the good looking rich people banging their way across the world, I suppose it's better than porn. Just don't watch it with family.

50 Shades Freed

Dir. James Foley

Grade: D+

Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Redmond Cinema

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