Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson
Directed by: James Foley (“Fifty Shades Darker”)
Written by: Niall Leonard (“Fifty Shades Darker”)

The shackles (or fuzzy handcuffs – who knows what you people are into) finally come off viewers who have tortured themselves senseless by watching the first two installments of the “Fifty Shades” franchise with “Fifty Shades Freed,” the last chapter of the titillating, trashy trilogy adapted from the bestselling softcore erotica series by author E.L. James. Much like the prior two films, “Freed” is only as good as the script allows, which doesn’t say much for screenwriter Niall Leonard (“Fifty Shades Darker”) or James and her writing prowess. With stagnant dialogue, uncreative sex scenes and a plot fit for an episode of “Days of Our Lives,” “Freed” is another unmemorable romp between the sheets.

Picking up where “Darker” left off with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) getting engaged, the kinky lovers start the film by tying the knot (“You may now flog the bride,” would’ve been a welcomed line during the ceremony) and beginning their new lives together as creepy husband and doting wife. Once again, Christian’s unlikeable character continues to be a major problem in the series as he controls every aspect of Anastasia’s life without much pushback from his submissive new spouse.

Since literally tripping into Christian’s life in the original film as a shy journalist writing a profile piece on the billionaire, Anastasia has grown somewhat of a backbone and isn’t quite as naïve as she once was. Still, she is portrayed as the pawn in the couple’s relationship. Christian is placed on a pedestal like a king. Everything he says goes and everything Anastasia does that he doesn’t like is quickly dealt with by “punishing” her sexually. In “Freed,” there’s even a scene where she rolls her eyes at Christian and ends up chained by her wrists and ankles.

Forget the sadomasochistic sex, which seems to be the only thing the two share an interest in, if a male character in a blockbuster franchise can get a pass for creating a toxic marriage just because he has washboard abs and his own airplane, then romance truly is dead – at least in the movies.

That’s probably not the case, fortunately. Christian is simply a sorry excuse for a leading man. It doesn’t help that Dornan doesn’t seem to be having much fun with the bland and narcissistic role. The script takes all the nonsensical drama too seriously and doesn’t leave any room for any lighthearted moments or even a little self-parody, something the franchise should’ve taken under consideration since the prior two films were universally panned.

Nevertheless, director James Foley (“Fifty Shades Darker”) and screenwriter Leonard don’t seem to be in the mood for more than the usual soap opera-worthy narrative, which features a second-rate villain returning for revenge and Anastasia pathetically attempting to retain her identity before she’s relegated to just another sex object in Christian’s playroom. Sadly, Johnson doesn’t get to break character or explore any ideas outside of dropping her panties.

In a time where audiences are looking for more women to take on female-empowered roles – whether it’s Daisy Ridley’s Rey or Wonder Woman or Lady Bird – it’s not enough to claim sexual freedom and call it a day. Anastasia might have a safe word to stop the pain, but “Freed” doesn’t give audiences the same luxury.

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