Let's just admit it. The majority of people who went to see Fifty Shades of Grey did so in a tongue and cheek way. Even if they were excited for whatever they might see, there was certainly an air of jokiness surrounding their attendance of the movie. Don't get me wrong, there was a core of dedicated fans who went to see the movie for all the pleasures that EL James tried to lay out when she wrote the books. However, the majority of the film's take was from a morbidly curious mass audience, simply wanting to see how the hell this project might turn out.
Fifty Shades Darker is thus released to a completely different cinematic landscape. The first book has been adapted, and people know how these movies look and feel. What can Sam Taylor-Johnson and Dana Brunetti do to ensure that Fifty Shades Darker is more than just a vanilla adaptation of the luckiest fan fiction in history?
Surprisingly, I'm not going to level a complaint at the sex scenes, or even the BDSM scenes in the first movie. They're fine. A little tame and cut down for a broader viewership, but fine. The changes Fifty Shades Darker ought to make from the book are of an entirely different nature.
Focus the story
The one thing people always mock from Fifty Shades of Grey is EL James' dialogue. The film adaptation did it's best to sort this out, but in it's place left a story as meandering and unfocused as any first time novelist's best effort. Sure, there are things that happen in Fifty Shades of Grey, and some of them might even appear related to each other, but an adaptation of Fifty Shades Darker could only benefit from having the story truly driven by character. Have Anastasia's own feelings and concerns move the plot along, rather than simply having her respond to stuff happening around her.
Bestowing Anastasia with agency will be an encouraging sign of acknowledging a female perspective in the story, and will make the film seem more tangible to the audience. Fifty Shades of Grey had the longest middle and quickest ending of any film I've seen. A new audience will certainly take Fifty Shades Darker more seriously if they sense that a story is being told, rather than a direct adaptation from the page.
Make Christian Grey more relatable
Okay I understand. Christian Grey is supposed to be much more a figurative ideal; a fantasy to be toyed with, than he is to be perceived as a real person. That's his main function in Fifty Shades of Grey, but come on! There has to be a mid-point. The idea of someone who practices a sub/dom relationship having to be a cold imposing sociopath is quite clearly an interest of EL James', but it's also completely untrue. There really would be no harm in changing the story slightly to show Christian having interests, world views, concerns for what other people like, and lust for expanding what he knows beyond just BDSM.
The idea of an interest in bondage being an all consuming one that renders someone almost inhuman is one that members of the actual BDSM community find insulting. Changing up Christian's character for Fifty Shades Darker wouldn't just make him more sympathetic, but would show the film's dedication to the subject matter.
Fifty Shades Dumber
Suggesting that the story a film is based on is inherently dumb sounds almost dismissive, but I genuinely believe it's the best thing Fifty Shades Darker has going for it. People indulged in the whole concept of Fifty Shades of Grey just to see how crazy it could get. EL James' follow up books certainly complement this sense of craziness, with the Jack Hyde storyline Elena Lincoln being introduced and the whole helicopter sabotage OH GOD!!
EL James has exhibited that, if she has anything, it's a disregard for staying sensible, and I can't wait to see how these films might adapt some of the more ridiculous plot lines from the books. Amping up the stupidity would endear a whole new set of fans to the films, and would save the Fifty Shades brand from going stale, if that's even possible.