This Valentine’s weekend our favourite brooding, hard-bodied billionaire returns to the big screen with a brand new adventure. You may read our 4 star Batman review here. Unfortunately we need to speak of Fifty Shades Darker.

The last time we saw Anastasia Steele she was walking away from her abuser. Escaping with tear stains on her cheeks but a new resolve in her heart to never let that mercurial Christian Grey close enough to hurt her again. HeyUGuys had the same reaction when we read the Fifty Shades novels. Never again would we endure such pain. Yet here we are.

Sam Taylor-Johnson did an impressive job of helming Fifty Shades of Grey. Taking E L James’ preposterous and childish source material and (together with screenwriter Kelly Marcel) crafting something pleasing on the eye and inoffensive to the soul. When her Anastasia said goodbye there was a triumphant finality to her words that an audience could truly believe. Taylor-Johnson and Marcel took an irritating Mary Sue and gave her flesh, snark and lady-balls.

E L James and her fellow producers took the decision to go a different way with parts two and three. Tasking husband Niall Leonard with writing the screenplays (in collaboration with James) and selecting James Foley to direct. Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed were to be faithfully adapted from the novels and simultaneously shot ensuring that her literary shit sandwich would make up for in continuity what it lacked in plausibility or originality. And replacing those lady-balls with jingling love balls instead.

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We open with Ana (Dakota Johnson) gamely getting on with her life for entire days before Christian sends her a beautiful bouquet of memory-erasing roses and stalks her to her friend Jose’s photographic show. She swiftly recovers from that nasty case of backbone and can barely muster more than a girlish tsk when Christian (Jamie Dornan) purchases every Ana portrait in the show lest another man should dare look at what is solely his. The old romantic!

Fans of the books will be relieved to hear that all is as it should be from that day forward. Fifty Shades Darker is every bit as baffling and banal as you remember. Though some of the worse excesses of coercion and control have been discreetly excised. Along with Christian’s delightful habit of referring to his mother as a crack whore. James Foley and cinematographer John Schwartzman have less pleasingly dispensed with the artful framing and nuance of the first film and gone for a sort of Trumpian ‘more is more’ celebration of stuff.

RELATED: Fifty Shades Darker Premiere Interviews

The original cast are joined by a trio of significant new characters for this sequel. Ana’s boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) offers a new opportunity for Christian to get territorial, while Christian’s former sub Leila (Bella Heathcote) gives Ana a sobering glimpse of her future. And Elena the notorious “Mrs Robinson” (Kim Basinger) who introduced Christian to the power of pain when he was a tortured teenage boy experiences a little payback at Ana’s hands.

Fifty Shades Darker Dakota Johnson Jamie Dornan

The ubiquitous torture is present too, of the flesh and of the spirit. In hamfisted flashback sequences we see the young Christian suffering the loss of his mother and we hear further detail whenever Ana shows signs of independence as Christian innovatively uses the power of his PTSD to shut her down. Dornan’s performance is entirely at odds with his characterisation of Christian in the first film. This Christian twinkles and jokes. And does rather impressive things with a pommel horse.

Not sex things. The sex in Fifty Shades Darker is fifty shades of same. Ana jokes early on about Christian’s new found taste for vanilla and, save some OMG kinky! accessories, their couplings are perfunctory and repetitive. Which left us with time to ponder and come up with a conspiracy theory entertaining enough to make the final hour fly by. What if James Foley and Jamie Dornan are engaged in a covert feminist plot to subvert the franchise from within?!

Bear with us…

The Fifty Shades trilogy is packed with red flags for gaslighting, isolation and abuse. By skewing the new films towards the lightweight, much of the impact of the irresponsible writing is lost. Fifty Shades Darker is (occasionally intentionally and primarily through its daftness) quite funny. Jamie Dornan has spent a great deal of time on the dark side by virtue of his work on The Fall and James Foley is familiar with sociopathic behaviour from his time on stalker thriller Fear. How delicious would it be if these two men were neutralising E L James’ pop cultural power?

They’re not. Sadly. Fifty Shades Darker is a cautionary tale. The parable of a writer who borrowed some words and ideas from an author she loved and crafted them into a fantasy to share in a quiet corner of the internet. The story she had borrowed was about a monster but in her story he became a man. Fame and money turned the writer’s head and before long she was made monstrous by her own notoriety believing the words to be her own and spewing them out into the world, without concern for their impact or gratitude for their origin.

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One can read the side by side comparisons to see how much Ms James has drawn from Twilight. Even admire the gall it takes to get away with a brazen misappropriation of work. But the breathtaking lack of editorial control means this film still tries too hard to emulate the saga which inspired it. The melodrama of an adolescent relationship and the brooding emo appeal of life with a perpetual teen vampire make no sense when transcribed onto a pair of adults. The sad truth is that the sparkly vampires made the Twilight saga sparkle. Fifty Shades Darker just does not shine.

Dakota Johnson does her best with the new improved Ana but, consigned once more to Mary Sue status, she enjoys limited success. Kim Basinger’s Elena Lincoln acts as stand in for us all with her thousand-yard stare and Stepford Wife enunciation. It is hard to judge whether this is a comment on the production or simply her default setting. We laughed longest at the irony of a hairdresser’s “Ciao, bella!” farewell and a random Working Girl reference. Then, as the closing credits rolled, we imagined we heard the gentle shush of shifting feet as Stephenie Meyer began the Snoopy Happy Dance.

Fifty Shades Darker opens on Friday 10th February