Occasionally the film looks nice, which is more than can be said for the central coupleUNIVERSAL PICTURES

The success of E.L. James might lead us to conclude that art is dead. At the end of the year, when the box office takings are totted up, one can expect to see Fifty Shades Freed outperform the likes of Phantom Thread or The Shape of Water by many a mile. For whom do these films probe, engross, and stimulate? It is all well and good for a critic to rip apart the veil and undo its shackles, but rather futile if it is hitting certain people in just the right spot.

Before the feature begins, audiences are treated to a trailer for Book Club, a study on women of the ilk enraptured by the steamy misplacement of apostrophes in James’s first novel. The premise of the piece appears stupendously inane, merely watching the likes of Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton peruse a book that brings out their repressed sexuality. One might wonder if the preceding advert for Lindor chocolates will have such people gasping with pleasure more than the underwhelming sexual practices of the Greys, especially if their husbands can only get them going with a healthy dose of Viagra.

“The tension between Johnson and Jamie Dornan, who just about manages to pass for a human being, never conforms with the narrative”

The latest entry is anything but gripping, having lost the bumbling charm of Fifty Shades of Grey. An extended reflective montage at the end of the film reminds us of those naïve but undoubtedly happier days when Dakota Johnson was capable of inspiring fits of giggles with her attempts to sensuously deliver lines like “what are butt plugs?” The third book, adapted here by James’s husband, Niall Leonard, fails even to bring out laughs in its grinding asininity, save for the occasional mention of “boobs in boobland”. And the Golden Raspberry goes to…

Nevertheless, the films’ financial reception cannot be understated, and the opening serves to shove its unnecessary budget in our faces. Hopping from Paris to the French Riviera, with flashes of Madame Butterfly and ballrooms, the cast and crew seem simply to have gone off on a jolly holiday.

Trailer for Fifty Shades FreedYOUTUBE

However, the tension between Johnson and Jamie Dornan, who just about manages to pass for a human being, never conforms with the narrative, themselves as unconvinced of their romance as we are. Indeed, there is one striking scene in Christian’s “playroom” that draws on this to craft a fine moment of jarring intensity. Alack, the remainder of the limp erotica will render the viewer frustratingly placid.


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Mountain View

The Post review: 'uncomfortably Pyrrhic'

The film has one questioning the very nature of its genre. Failing as a romance, Fifty Shades Darker attempted to strike some fire in its belly by transforming itself into a revenge thriller. Enter Christian’s past, his family, including Rita Ora as the latest pop star having an undeserved crack at acting, and Anastasia’s old boss, a villainous Eric Johnson looking as confused by his role as everyone else.

His misdeeds drive the stalest car chase ever filmed, a sliver of tension derived from Danny Elman’s uncharacteristically bland score, and by locking on to the Audi logo for so long the camera never manages to convince us James Bond is at the wheel. Product placement similarly forms the film’s funniest sequence, which does for Ben and Jerry’s what Call Me By Your Name did for peaches.

What little intrigue or sexual interest the series had peaked in its first instalment, from which, while hardly a lofty benchmark, its sequels have degenerated. James Foley is evidently a capable director, and there are many shots worthy of merit. Stylised and persistent, the actual shooting of the movie makes sitting through it a somewhat less excruciating experience, but hardly the pulse-raising turn-on it strives to be. Rather than climax, Fifty Shades Freed fizzles out after a bit of light fingering

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