#SGWatch4U: Fifty Shades Freed finally gives hot and bothered housewives what they’ve wanted since the beginning

#SGWatch4U is our weekly screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.

When we left the cinema, we were shocked. Not because we’d just seen an eye-searing amount of explicit sex—far more than what the previous installments delivered—but because Fifty Shades Freed was actually… good?

The finale to the bestselling erotic trilogy opens Feb 8, a little earlier than its usual cheesy Valentine’s Day release date. Perhaps the producers were sick and done with the franchise, and wanted to just get it over with; Lord knows the lead actors are. At times, Fifty Shades Freed feels like an embarrassed mum’s attempt to hastily pull her unpopular kid from class before it ends and the bullies attack. But the show should give itself more credit; measured against its predecessors, the last installment finally delivers substance that’s equal parts action and eroticism.

It’s important to remember that the franchise has its roots in Twilight fanfiction—itself a mind-numbing romance-thriller trilogy. To go in expecting the emotional depth and nuance of say, a Nicholas Sparks film, would defeat the purpose of buying the ticket in the first place. Instead, what you should expect is Hollywood-endorsed sex scenes, saccharine confessions of the heart, and a lot of Christian Grey money.

On that, Fifty Shades Freed delivers on all counts. Ana (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) are finally married, and they spend the first 20 minutes of the film gallivanting across beautiful European landscapes for their honeymoon. They have zero chemistry, but you already knew that from the first movie.

, #SGWatch4U: Fifty Shades Freed finally gives hot and bothered housewives what they’ve wanted since the beginning
Mr. and Mrs. Grey will see you now

After (but frankly also before and during) the honeymoon, it doesn’t take long for the film to dive straight into steamy, hot sex. The entire first half of the movie is a blur of no-holds-barred, raunchy scenes that border on pornographic; so much that as an audience member you can’t help but wonder how awkward things between the leads truly must be. It’s the culmination of two movies’ worth of criticism and complaint that things weren’t as explicit as they could have been, packed into an orgasm-filled hour, and thrust in your face with a “Here, this is what you asked for.” Ana and Christian get it on so often that, coupled with the hazy timeline in the storytelling, you can’t be sure whether all that sex took place over the course of two days or two months.

Somewhere around midway, the breathless sex takes a sudden backseat. It’s as if now that we’ve had our fill, it’s time for the actual plot to start. Ana and Christian’s biggest obstacle in this film, apart from adjusting to married life, is Ana’s stalker, her ex-boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). As a result, there’s considerably less BDSM and more proper action in Fifty Shades Freed; Dakota Johnson even underwent training for a car chase scene that ends up being one of the film’s highlights.

The movie also has a knack for diffusing its own tension with quirky humor that, despite its often exaggerated melodrama, suggests it’s self-aware. And it works, in a quietly-tugging-at-the-corner-of-your-mouth kind of way. After an intense tackle scene with Jack Hyde, the following conversation plays out:

Bodyguard 1: Restrain him!

Bodyguard 2: I don’t have anything

Ana: We do—

Moments like these stay true to Ana’s character as the awkward, innocent girl—who couldn’t be any better portrayed. Dakota Johnson is innocence personified, and once again she emerges as the movie’s star for being able to balance Anastasia’s quiet but steely (pun intended) determination. There’s a point in the film when Ana reflects on their relationship, and a cutesy montage of flashbacks from the first two movies plays against Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” (which was written for the franchise, and later nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song). It’s an unexpected but admittedly sweet touch, and we get to witness the growth of both Johnson, moving forward from her breakout role, and Anastasia Steele, from timid submissive to empowered lady boss taking charge of her power-hungry husband.

, #SGWatch4U: Fifty Shades Freed finally gives hot and bothered housewives what they’ve wanted since the beginning

Watching Fifty Shades requires you to suspend all prejudices and just go in with an open mind. There’s nothing extraordinary about it, but neither the film nor E. L. James’ novels ever made promises to generate genuine conversation about women’s rights or trauma. It was written as the purest form of escapism—an enthusiastic fan’s personal fantasy to extend a fictional universe; and why should that be a bad thing in today’s climate?

In a way, the overall development of the Fifty Shades franchise neatly parallels that of Twilight; you could completely skip the second book/movie and not miss a thing. The world has become a more amusing place since the first book’s release in 2011, and like it or not, the end of Fifty Shades is the end of an era. Frankly, we’re a little reluctant to admit that we’ve finally been freed.

Fifty Shades Freed opens in cinemas Feb 8. Rated R.