Dakota Johnson has already established herself as the Fifty Shades franchise's unmitigated tour de force. Not to mention that she's the only one who seems to be in on the joke. In the first film, her character Anastasia Steele goes on a kinky journey of self-discovery; in Fifty Shades Darker, the only thing she's discovered is that all men are truly terrible. From her good "friend" José to her creepy boss to her domineering boyfriend, there's not a single man in Anastasia's life who deserves her time and attention — or any woman's attention, for that matter.
In fact, I spent the majority of Fifty Shades Darker imagining a shared universe in which Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons burn all of the men to the ground before riding off with Ana in tow. (Valar Morghulis, Ana.) She would learn more about her sexual self in one afternoon with Khaleesi than she would in five lifetimes with Mr. Grey, not that anyone should be subjected to five lifetimes with that mopey sadist.
There's nothing wrong with the sex in this movie. It's completely fine, and more importantly, consensual, even the impromptu elevator finger-banging. My main grievance against Fifty Shades Darker is that all of the men in Ana's life are god-awful. This is a film in which women can't own anything, not even a glass of wine, but somehow it's totally acceptable for a man to own a framed Chronicles of Riddick poster in his childhood bedroom. (It's not.)
Don't believe me? Let's count the many ways in which Ana was completely ignored, assaulted, and gaslighted by the men around her.
José, you idiot. Do you really think it's OK to creepily put six candid photos of a woman in your public art show without asking her permission? And do you think it's OK to justify the action to Ana by saying, "If I had asked you, you would have been like, 'I'm too shy'"? It's called consent, José. These are the kinds of acts that make women feel unsafe. This particular act violated Ana's privacy, and worse, you allowed Christian "50 Shades of Fucked Up" Grey to buy ALL OF THEM. Don't even get me started on what you're doing with the negatives, José.
Jack HydeUniversal Pictures
Jack Hyde uses his male privilege to sexually assault his assistants — in this case it's Ana, but you get the impression he's done this kind of thing before — and take advantage of their ambition. Also, any man that earnestly says, "I don't want to brag, but I'm a pretty good teacher," is not to be trusted. Anastasia makes it clear that her career in publishing is important to her, and Jack (and Christian, too) takes advantage of that. Case in point: Jack and Christian's first exchange, which was more like an opportunity for them to swing their dicks around. "I'm the boyfriend," Christian says. "I'm the boss," Jack replies. See? To these dudes, Ana is just property.
Christian GreyUniversal Pictures
Listen, I get the narrative that series creator E. L. James was going for: Ana makes "bad boy" Christian want to change his ways and be a better man. It's been done before. But there's a lot about Christian that makes no goddamn sense and raises so many red flags, and Ana just ignores it all — like when he buys her place of employment to keep an eye on her and Jack, and when she tells him that she has to go on a work trip to New York and he tells her, a grown-ass woman, "The answer is no."
When Ana does start to question her future with Christian, he distracts her with something else. For example, when Ana tells Christian that she's afraid she'll never be the submissive he needs her to be, he calmly redirects: "I'm a sadist. I get off on punishing women who look like you, like my mother." Ana is clearly uncomfortable with this, so Christian distracts her by offering more of himself to her (i.e., he lets her touch his scarred chest). She never brings up his sadist confession again, and the next time she tells him that she needs space, he proposes to her. Even worse: She says yes.
Yes, even Taylor. As Christian's personal driver he is complicit in all of Mr. Grey's fuckery — like chasing Ana around Seattle in the pouring rain when she obviously wants to be left alone. Man up, Taylor! You don't have to take this shit.