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When the World was ‘Freed’ from ‘Fifty Shades’

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The “Fifty Shades” film franchise feels like a one-night stand that one should desert the morning after. While the original film was marketed as a romance film flocked with literally in-your-face sex scenes to help spice up one’s theatrical visit, it has since now awkwardly climaxed into a film series that has issues not only with critics and audiences, but also its own identity.

The most obvious genre the franchise is concerned with is its erotica and much-discussed sex scenes. While lead actors Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson definitely are considered by many to be physically attractive, their chemistry sadly never make it past the front door and they don’t feel natural around each other.

However, this third film, “Fifty Shades Freed,” which came out on Feb. 9, starts to show Dornan and Johnson looking and feeling more comfortable around each other. It does not feel as terribly awkward like in the first film but it once again revolves back to the concept of the franchise’s confused identity.

While it delivers in serving a buffet of sexual fantasies, the franchise attempts to convince audiences that there is a genuine romance between Dornan’s Christian Grey and Johnson’s Anastasia Steele. There is also drama as Grey’s troubled childhood and background have come up, and Steele (in one of the franchise’s rare strong points) respectfully tries to break down Grey’s metaphorical walls.

With “Fifty Shades Freed” though, there is now a thriller element as Steele’s creepy former boss who’d sexually harassed her in the last film, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), has become a tragic stalker who resorts to trespassing, kidnapping and ransom.

Director James Foley and original novelist E.L. James seem to not have a clear grasp of what the novel series and film franchise should go, resulting in the confusing juggling of genres that’s thrown to the audience. Like how Dakota Johnson’s character remained wide-eyed throughout the three films, “Fifty Shades Freed” desperately needed direction and a purpose.

“Fifty Shades Freed” began with—and quickly moved on from—Grey and Steele’s wedding, something that was heavily promoted in teaser trailers and the prior film’s ending. So, it seemed quite odd the ceremony ended quite abruptly in this film. As the couple shared their first dance, they would not realize they would later deal with an unwanted pregnancy and Hyde’s jealous wrath.

There were some satisfactory action sequences as the two were involved in a car chase, and Steele had to deal with Hyde kidnapping her sister-in-law, Mia Grey (played by Rita Ora). The film was also flocked with numerous sex scenes, always being accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack to amp up the so-called sexual tension between the two main characters.

The main highlight of “Fifty Shades Freed”—which ironically was not even truly part of this film—was a poignant montage of scenes from the prior two films, quickly recapping how Grey and Steele first met, fell in love and how their journey has led to them to where they are by this film’s end.

Pop singer Ellie Goulding’s 2015 smash hit, “Love Me Like You Do” began playing too, making this bittersweet montage the most memorable part of the film as it also reminds how much the “Fifty Shades” franchise has contributed to pop culture.

There was a sense of responsibility this film franchise had but never followed through with. It had sparked intense discussions about obscenity, BDSM, sensuality and what type of sex is considered “normal” (and even whether that thought process is politically correct). The public and academia have debated about all this, propelling “Fifty Shades” into a worldwide phenomenon but the films themselves overall just felt awkward and half-hearted.

While quality was missing from this ménage à trois of a franchise, quantity won out. The original film made over a whopping $571 million altogether and the second made a slightly-flaccid-but-still-functioning $380 million. As of Feb. 25, the third has made over $320 million, a respectable worldwide gross so far.

No matter what anyone says, one can’t deny how “Fifty Shades” has influenced popular culture. It has inspired much R-rated humor via social media and word of mouth, and even yielded some memorable soundtracks, like Ellie Goulding’s aforementioned “Love Me Like You Do,” The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” and Zayn and Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.”

The film ends on a happy note, with the Greys now being parents of two children.

While one may wonder how being parents will have affected the Greys’ sexual appetite, there won’t be another film or novel to answer or illustrate that question. It could have renewed heated debates about the films again among the public and academia; this time, it’d hypothetically revolve around whether parents should continue with BDSM when their children are probably snoozing in their bedrooms next door.

If another novel or film that directly follows the events of “Fifty Shades Freed” does spring up though, using the safe word should suffice.

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