Fifty Shades Freed—the “climax” to the Fifty Shades trilogy—saw Christian and Ana do, well, a lot of boning, as Slate’s review so aptly put it. Sexy times and sexy thoughts were had all over the place, on planes, boats, and automobiles, not to mention all over the actual plot. While previous films in the franchise put time and effort into building up to their sex scenes (it took 42 minutes for the first, Fifty Shades of Grey, to hit its deflowering moment), Fifty Shades Freed more or less does away with the idea of narrative foreplay, with sex scenes flying at us as unexpectedly as Dodge Durangos driven by deranged former bosses.
Obviously, one knows what one is in for when they buy a ticket to a Fifty Shades movie. But with Christian and Ana now married and spending most of their non-working hours together, the pace at which this latest film could segue (or sexue) from regular scene to sex scene was enough to give you whiplash—and not the playroom-inflicted kind. One minute you’re in a car chase and then bam: chicka wow wow.
It wasn’t always this way. Fifty Shades of Grey was built around the build-up, with much of the film revolving around a BDSM contract negotiation between the future spouses. It takes 42 minutes to hit its stroke: After a number of false starts including a sexless night in his hotel bed and a tour of the playroom, Ana reveals she is a virgin, and the two finally have slow-building, unhurried sex. Once they have consummated their feelings, the film becomes one giant flirtation, with coy onscreen emails exchanged as Ana wavers and teases Christian about her contract decision. Coitus is a coquettish dance: Christian is unwilling to touch Ana until the deal is signed, but repeatedly gives in to his smoldering lust, as Ana seeks intimacy without the paperwork.
The first sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, required at least some foreplot, as it opens with the lovers broken up. The yearning couple have dinner, separate, go grocery shopping, and attempt to make dinner before making love, 19 minutes in. But once they do, we begin to get a taste of the abruptness of the final film. Ana bidding on a stay at Christian’s holiday home at his parents’ charity ball is enough for a cut to, Let’s go bone in my childhood bedroom. Ana finally saying yes to Christian’s marriage proposal results in a steamy shower sexue.
With their arrangement finally under contract (marriage, not dom/sub), the third movie does away with the Greys’ dating twists and turns and becomes instead a film about newlyweds doing it—with some light background plot thrown in for good measure. Sexues are what keep the plot moving. Ana and Christian’s marital disagreements, which should be red flags, are actually nothing more than excuses to sexue implausibly from fighting to screwing. After Ana defies her new husband by going topless on the topless beach, Christian whisks her away to his yacht for the film’s first sexy time. In a later scene on their private jet, Mrs. Grey rolls her eyes at Mr. Grey. The knowing, titillated audience knows what that means. CUT TO: The Playroom.
In the film’s most flagrant sexue, Ana and Christian pull off a narrow escape during a sexhilarating car chase, losing their pursuer and screeching into an outdoor parking lot. Rather than cutting to the chase, the chase cuts to the bang, with Ana climbing on top of Christian faster than you can say “Dodge Durango.” With houses to buy and stalkers to deal with, there’s simply no time for foreplay.
Or I should say, no time for traditional foreplay. In Fifty Shades Freed’s meandering storyline, anything can be foreplay, narratively speaking: a look, an argument, a montage, danger, ice cream. Sex can follow almost any scene, with Freed seguing to fornification when you least expect it—but really, why weren’t you expecting it? Perhaps the film, like the title claims, really is freed: unabashedly freed of conventional sex scene formulae. And isn’t that the most liberating thing of all?