If it's true that there's no such thing as bad publicity, Fifty Shades Darker has been riding the crest of a very valuable wave these past few months, with everybody from the press to fans of the show left to guess at the future of the controversial franchise. If you deconstruct what's actually happened - or not happened - since Fifty Shades of Grey was released to middling critical reception but strong success commercially back in February of this year, there's been nothing to actively suggest that the film series is in trouble - but speculation about things going wrong before production has even begun on sequel Fifty Shades Darker has been a recurring theme in the time since.
This week, it was reported by the always-reliable Variety that Darker will shoot back-to-back with the third movie in the series, Fifty Shades Freed, for a release in 2017 and one year later. That's smart - keep the momentum going - but is two years between Grey and Darker too long a wait for the second movie to find an audience outside of the core fanbase?
"I have no shame..."
One of the recurring criticisms of Grey from that film's more vocal critics is that lead stars Dakota Johnson (as Ana) and Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey) lacked the requisite chemistry to make the central relationship believable, and that the sex scenes were tame compared with those found in the book - but a new interview with Johnson suggests that Darker, with James Foley in the director's seat, might look to address that:
I don’t have any problem doing anything. The secret is I have no shame. I think there's a part of a woman that wants to be the thing that breaks a man down.
I've argued in the past that taking a more risque approach to sex scenes might do this franchise the world of good, so it's great to hear that Johnson is game for whatever the script asks of her and Dornan. But what's perhaps more interesting is that her comment suggests she found layers of depth in the books that didn't translate into the first film. Perhaps the change of director could be the tool to bring those depths to the surface in Darker.
Speaking to Empire, Johnson also addressed the switch of directors post-Grey:
There was a moment of being afraid, because I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I had an experience with Sam [Taylor-Johnson] and then that all went away. Now I’m excited. I think James is a talented filmmaker. How often do you get to reconvene with the same people and have a different spin?
An obvious comparison to draw is with the Twilight franchise, which ditched the first film's director, Catherine Hardwicke, in time for sequel New Moon, which was helmed by Chris Weitz. As it happened, New Moon turned out to be a much inferior film to the first, drawing more strongly negative critical reviews despite being a financial success. The ideal situation for Darker would be instead to build on what Grey achieved - it wasn't actually mauled by critics, which is something - and create a more ambitious franchise than the books. Both Johnson and Dornan are certainly capable of charming audiences, although it would be great if they could develop more of a frisson with each other on-screen.
I've said it before: I don't think Fifty Shades Darker is in any particular trouble. In an ideal world, audiences wouldn't have had to wait two years between the first movie and the second - the world moves at a fast pace, and by Spring 2017 there'll be a new hot phenomenon in the literary world overshadowing Grey - but nonetheless this is a franchise with a fanbase big enough to overcome the wait. The real challenge will be upping the quality in Darker, and hopefully that's a challenge Dornan and co are ready to rise to. (Not a pun.)
What's your take on Fifty Shades Darker? Is two years too long to wait for the sequel, or is this media hype just a storm in a teacup? Share your thoughts in the comments.