When Anastasia complains that her 24-7 security detail keeps her from seeing her best pal, Kate (Eloise Mumford), Christian impulsively whisks her and a few friends off to his Aspen, Colo., lodge, where Champagne flutes, bubble baths and aphrodisiac desserts await.
But most of the time Christian glowers and rages when he doesn't get his way, clearly having learned to flog his problems into submission rather than solve them. You may nod vigorously when he acknowledges he's not ready to have children, perhaps stemming from his conflicted feelings toward the birth mother he never knew. But the utterly daft scene in which he shows up unannounced at his wife's office, berating her for still using her maiden name in her corporate email address, exists on an entirely different level of heavy petulance. By the time Christian persuades Anastasia to insert a plug into her nether regions, you want to ask if he's ever bothered removing his.
It's about time he did, as the movie's title more or less suggests. But if liberation is the endgame of "Fifty Shades Freed," most of the time we feel trapped right alongside the characters, immobilized by the pointless, suffocating beauty and the stultifying dramatic inertia of the world James has created for them. Whenever a fresh or familiar face pops into view -- like Christian's sweet, vivacious sister, Mia (pop singer Rita Ora), or their wise, imperious mother (Marcia Gay Harden) -- you long for the movie to follow that person somewhere, to grant us a change of scenery that doesn't involve Christian and Anastasia's stunning new dream house, or a conversation that doesn't devolve into deathly dull innuendo.
The filmmakers have long stopped pretending to find anything troubling or transgressive about Christian's appetites -- he might wield that vibrator a bit punitively at times, but really, who doesn't -- leaving them little to do besides cut away distractedly to Hyde's harebrained scheme and usher the Greys toward the more ominous prospect of long-term commitment and parenthood. That's the real villain in this love story, of course: the threatening possibility that these two beautiful, enviable one-percenters might be headed for a more boring, more conformist existence than they think they deserve.
Boo-hoo, yawn-yawn, giggle-giggle. As we bid good riddance and "laters, baby" to the "Fifty Shades" franchise, it's hard to begrudge Christian and Anastasia their inevitable fairy-tale ending, or to wish these two game, likable actors anything but greener pastures. With any luck, the endearingly wooden Dornan will have better performances ahead of him, while Johnson, whose radiant intelligence and tremulous sensitivity have brought more shades to this story than anyone could have dreamed, will surely have better movies. The next time she suffers this vividly for her art, let's hope it's as good for her as it was for us.
Justin Chang: email@example.com
'FIFTY SHADES FREED'
Rated: R, for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: In general release
(c)2018 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.