Although the previous Fifty Shades films were justly slammed for a laughable lack of chemistry between the leads, wasted secondary characters, inane dialogue, and erratic plot lines, the third and final installment of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, doesn’t learn from these past mistakes but instead doubles down on them. At least you can say the series is consistent.
Fifty Shades Freed begins with the wedding and honeymoon of Ana (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan). Despite purportedly being changed by the love of a good woman in the previous films, Christian continues to be creepily controlling and jealous, chastising Ana for baring too much skin in her bikini. This leads Ana to counter with perhaps the movie’s best line of dialogue: “It’s boobs in boobland here.” (If that weren’t cringeworthy enough, Christian’s ridiculous catchphrase of “laters, baby” makes another appearance.)
Soon after, the villain created at the end of Fifty Shades Darker, disgraced book editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), reemerges as a terrorist-level tech wiz who is suddenly able to sabotage helicopters and break into Grey Enterprises. Perhaps it’s the persistent, sexy pop soundtrack or the dead-eyed leads, but Hyde never feels like an actual threat, not even when he’s holding a knife to Ana’s throat. This might be forgivable if Hyde’s actions were a catalyst for any believable character growth or increased depth in Ana and Christian’s relationship. Alas, the film is mainly preoccupied with glamorous montages and setting up ham-fisted segues into mostly non-BDSM sex scenes between the newlyweds, even amid major discussions like whether they want to have children (which Ana doesn’t bring up until after their honeymoon).
The main goal of Freed is to show how Ana continues to evolve into a strong woman who can change Christian into a better man. While the first film was content to let her be a cipher for female viewers and merely imply that she’s “special,” Freed uses dialogue to try and gaslight the audience into believing that Ana has any agency. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Freed tells viewers that Ana has totally earned her job at the company her husband owns, that being independent means avoiding safety precautions when you’re being stalked, and that being “tenacious” means complying with the demands of a mentally unhinged kidnapper and never asking for help. Ana might offer up a few eyerolls and half-hearted resistance toward her domineering husband, but at the end of the day, she says it herself: “Christian, you’re my whole life.” And apparently it just takes someone else besides him stalking his wife for Christian to not only completely rearrange his priorities, but transform into a basic suburban dad who wears polos and khakis. It doesn’t seem like either Ana or Christian are “freed” in this relationship. In fact, it’s ironic that this romantic fantasy leads to a stereotypical, stable domesticity that some fans of the original book series were trying to free themselves from by reading Fifty Shades in the first place.
Like the other installments in the series, Freed takes itself way too seriously, refusing to just let loose and be in on the joke. Though it’s the shortest film in the franchise, the movie drags. Plot is haphazardly thrown at the audience in chunks between lifeless sex scenes in a painful attempt to dress up the hackneyed Cinderella plot at its core. “Don’t miss the climax” is the movie’s tagline, but a more apropos slogan would be: “Watch this fumbling, frustrating franchise fizzle into a pop-culture footnote.”