Fifty Shades Darker isn't so highly anticipated because we're already trying to call 2018 Oscar nominees (FWIW, you probably forgot the first movie was nominated for an Oscar). Like the Twilight franchise, for which Fifty Shades can attribute its existence, the people who are going to see this sequel knew they were going to see it years ago, reviews be damned. But let me just say: Hallelujah: it's better than Fifty Shades of Grey. If you were on the fence about seeing it (or you need compelling evidence to convince a friend to go see it with you), here are a few reasons the movie is at least more entertaining than its predecessor.
The Script Is Better
Let me clarify: the script is not amazing. But! The dialogue is about a million times better. It's still based on the E. L. James book, and thus, pretty cheesy plot-wise (if you don't know: Christian and Ana get back together, have lots of sex, and deal with outside distractions in the form of a crazy stalker, a crazy boss, and a crazy older woman from Jamie's past). With James having replaced the first movie's screenwriter with her own husband, Niall Leonard, one wouldn't have expected much improvement — though maybe some more loyalty to the book. In any case, Darker is actually not darker at all, but funnier, lighter, and more enjoyable. With sex and stalkers. (And thank God: no one ever says "Laters, Baby" out loud).
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan Are Way More Natural
The script isn't the only improvement since the first movie; Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, who play star-crossed lovers Christian and Ana, seem to have found something they didn't have playing these characters before: comfort. On the page, these characters are written oddly, and never once feel like real people. In movie number two, though, they seem to have figured it out — if not who they are, at least, how to best act them. To her credit, Johnson added more to Ana from the beginning — a silly charm, I guess, that made her feel a little more real. Dornan, though, as attractive and talented as he is, never seemed comfortable inhabiting Christian; as a result, he feels like a caricature in the first movie. This time, though, he feels more like a real dude. He's still weird and rich, but he's far more believable.
OH MY GOD THE SCRUFF. After an apparent uproar over Dornan's lack of facial hair in the first movie, I'm beyond thrilled to report that our hero is covered in a beautiful layer of scruff. It makes a world of difference, believe me. If you couldn't take your eyes off of him before, you're going to have to remind yourself to blink in this movie.
The Sex Scenes Are Somehow Less Awkward to Watch
Or maybe going to the theater the first time to see Fifty Shades of Grey just dulled our sense of awkwardness for seeing a glorified sex-film with a room full of strangers. But there's also something distinctly different about the love scenes: they're still steamy, but Christian's trademark kink feels toned down (explained in the movie that it's what Ana wants). The music paired with the sex scenes was also immaculately chosen; seriously, not since the Twilight soundtracks have I felt so compelled to explain to people how superior the soundtrack is to a movie. Back to the sex: you know what the movie feels like now? A cheesy romantic comedy that just doesn't cut away when the leads start making out. And yes, I did just call Fifty Shades Darker a cheesy romantic comedy. The tone is all over the place, but at the end of the day, you're already there watching. Do you really care that you go from cheeky jokes about putting stuff in someone's butt to suicidal stalkers? The mind can keep up.