It's the franchise that picked up where Twilight left off. A series of wildly successful books, the Fifty Shades trilogy had made a name for itself as a best-selling bodice ripper that was turned into one of the least sexy franchises in film history. And sure enough, Fifty Shades Freed's arrival heralds another brooding romance that tries to do something more adventurous with its last act. And yet, much like a misguided lover trying to spice things up, without a clue about what they're doing, this flick disappoints more than it titillates.
After a whirlwind courtship, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are finally married. Their relationship woes aren't totally past them, as Ana's growing rebellious streak is giving her new husband a hard time. To make matters worse, the scorned and fired Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) has been engineering his final revenge against the happy couple, swearing that they "owe him a life." Whatever that means.
If Fifty Shades Freed had gone the way of the classic USA Network erotic thriller, it would have at least been a trashy delight to enjoy. And for a while, that's exactly where you think this third installment will finally go, after two films of teasing a darker plot at hand. Unfortunately, this menacing thread is only barely featured in the first two acts of the film, with a rushed third act climax that finally sees Jack's revenge become an actual threat. Even with a kidnapping and ransom demand in play, this film can't muster any thrills.
What's the rest of Fifty Shades Freed made up of, you might be asking? Well, if you're a fan of the tamest BDSM sex, and a soundtrack that can't stop throwing in mid-tempo pop tracks into its already fast-paced playlist, then you're in luck. Oh, spoiler alert, Anastasia and Christian actually get married in this movie! Oh don't worry if you forget their absurdly dull wedding from the opening of the film, as there's still plenty of "banter" between the happy couple that reminds us that yes, there was a wedding.
Additionally, there are moments between Fifty Shades Freed's main couple that really highlight the unhealthy nature of their relationship. In one particular instance, Anastasia and Christian are having dinner, and getting into a fight over whether or not they'll be having children. Putting aside the fact that this is a question you should really discuss before even proposing marriage, in a more competent story, this could have led to actual moments of character development and even some dramatic depth. Instead, it leads to Christian throwing a hissy fit and leaving for a bender. Hey, who needs character development when you've got a horrific cover of INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart" and a spiteful sex scene involving a vibrator?
The best praise that could be mustered for Fifty Shades Freed is that its visuals haven't lost their glossy magazine page look. So the lifestyle of bad decisions, copious sex, and rich living are still as sharpened as they've ever been. Freed certainly looks like it belongs in the Fifty Shades canon, and by time you reach the obligatory montage of what's come before in the series, you'll notice not only that the film matches the visual palette of the series, you'll also realize that this film is as forgettable as the ones that came before it.
For a trilogy that started as laughably bad, Fifty Shades Freed ends it all with a dull, lifeless product to end all dull, lifeless products. It does not go out with a whimper, nor a bang, but a Pinterest board of bad ideas involving storytelling, relationship advice, and general human conduct.