Yes, I know, there are lots of women who like “Fast and Furious” movies—and notably less men that like “Fifty Shades” movies, as evidenced by how “Furious” movies are rubber-stamped by critics and “Fifty” movies are ridiculed. But when you really get into the heart of the “Fast” audience, there’s a certain type of gear head that finds somethings primal in those movies that touch their heart in a way most people (like myself) can’t really get and they see a franchise that’s devoted to family, indestructible friendships, and the cathartic glory of analog muscle-heads smashing through a digital world with nothing more than a souped-up GTO.
I would argue that most of that stuff is fake—the “Fast Family” is a marketing gimmick, since of the most principal actors actually hate each other, and the early nitty-gritty of the first “Fast” movie has long been replaced by ridiculous CGI. But it’s audience will just say that I don’t “get it” and shrug.
What Works: Well, the same is definitely true of the “Fifty Shades” movies, which everyone seems to openly hate, but still goes to see in droves anyway. [I don’t really believe that millions upon millions of people are going just to hate watch.] For a certain female viewer, these films are tapping into something more primal about control, freedom, lust, and damaged “Beauty and the Beastly Beauty” narratives than many critics are willing to admit or even understand.
During the sold-out opening night screening I attended—in a theater that serves alcohol—several groups of women were kind-of making jokes about being there (“Can you believe how lame this is?” type stuff), but you could tell no one really believes that anymore, since…well, why would you go to the opening night 10 p.m. screening on a cold Thursday night if you really didn’t want to be there? It’s also noting that although women still routinely grouse that Steven Soderbergh tricked them into watching an art film like “Magic Mike” (rather than expressing relief it wasn’t just an exploitative beefcake-palooza), several women last night burst into applause during this movie’s first sex scene and the appearance of the infinitely-bland Jamie Dornan, and are obviously enjoying “Fifty”‘s more shallow pleasures.
What Doesn’t: That being said, this is the worst film in the franchise (to me), and a lot of the first two movie’s more challenging elements—the push/pull of Anastasia’s first bondage experiences, the abuse of Christian’s background, and Kim Basinger—have been airbrushed into goofy comedy (there’s a scene involving melted ice cream being licked off Dornan’s scraggly, uneven body hair that might make you gag more than blush). Worse, although there is a token sense of danger in Anastasia and Christian’s stalker, the few times he puts anyone in danger don’t last more than a few seconds.
What we’re left with is a final film that feels too light, the film equivalent of “The Bachelor,” loaded with clumsy product placement (most of the action feels like an Audi commercial), vacation porn-trips, HGTV ready designer homes, and not much else. Christian’s tortured background receives a token mention, but Kim Basinger’s antagonist (set up as a foil in the second film) isn’t even on-screen. Worst of all, “Shades” reveals its conservative heart, with an unwanted pregnancy not even receiving a token mention that abortion is legal in the United States. In scenes like that, you can see how “Shades” started as “Twilight” fan fiction, and E.L. James may have been unknowingly influenced by the Mormon Twilight author’s social leanings.
What I Would Have Done Differently: I actually feel the first two movies weren’t nearly as bad, and I could imagine an alternate cut of this movie with less product placement and shallow set design, and more earnest character development. Of course, a lot of the female fans would hate that movie almost as much male “Fast” fans would hate a better version of their sacred franchise.