The final installment in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy proves that the series' BDSM-flavored sex scenes have always been the icing on the cake, a fluffy confection of wish fulfillment. In Fifty Shades Freed the wealth and lifestyle porn are more aggressive than the sex—which, by this point, newlyweds Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) mostly giggle through, along with the viewer. Far more titillating are the loving camera sweeps over palatial residences, designer threads, and souped-up cars; two of the sex scenes double as product placements (for Audi and Ben & Jerry's).
The film's title connotes liberation, yet this is the most conservative of the three films based on E.L. James's naughty novels. In a somewhat surprising twist, the finale rigorously upholds traditional gender roles, reactionary family values, and a decidedly capitalist take on meritocracy. Strangely puritanical scenes abound, such as when Ana warns a flirtatious female architect to stay away from her man, or when Christian and Ana argue over whether she should change her last name on her work e-mail address. Later, when Christian wonders aloud if he's a billionaire mainly because his wealthy adoptive parents plucked him out of the foster care system, Ana reassures him: "You were raised with advantages, yes, but look what you made of it!" In turn, Christian assures Ana that her promotion to fiction editor at the publishing house he owns is the result of her hard work and talent (the film shows neither). A paean to hetero norms, Freed begins with an extravagant wedding and ends with the well-heeled couple moving into a fairy-tale mansion with two little Greys in tow.
The film's deviance amounts to little more than a few campy in-jokes: when the villain breaks into Ana and Christian's penthouse, a member of their security detail pins him down and laments her lack of restraints. We have some of those, Ana admits. This self-aware humor suggests that the filmmakers are finally in on the joke (even the tagline, "Don't miss the climax," seems to snigger at itself). The Fifty Shades trilogy is a ruse, peddled to and, for the most part, absorbed by heterosexual female fans. Freed reveals that the series was never about the overhyped sex but rather the glamorous lifestyle that ostensibly comes with taming and keeping a rich, handsome man. Freed appeals to women's biological urges—to secure a protective mate, to nest, to procreate—and depends on them leaving their brains at the theater door. v