I finally saw this today, a week after its worldwide release. The hype hasn't abated, and neither have the negative / mixed reviews.
Yes, I've read books one and two of the trilogy ( I own the entire set but somehow lost momentum and didn't get to book three ) and am familiar with the storyline. I've also gone through a number of reviews written by well-known critics. Lacklustre word-of-mouth feedback from friends added to the mix, so my expectations weren't high as I entered the theatre.
So no-one is more surprised than I am about the strange yet undeniable outcome: I liked it. A lot. In fact, I rated it 9/10 on IMDB.com.
First, kudos to Kelly Marcel for condensing 500 pages of lovesick ramblings into a palatable end-product. It's no secret that author EL James was originally inspired by Bella and Edward's romance in Twilight, and the novels mirror Stephenie Meyers' writing style, i.e. long, detailed descriptions of the main characters' state of mind, and numerous repetitions ad nauseam of certain physical attributes or behavioural quirks.
Those of us who had more than enough of Anastasia's "inner goddess" and Christian's "laters, baby", not to mention their endless email exchanges, are spared the torture since the first is completely omitted, the second reduced to two lines in one fleeting scene, and the third summarized succinctly, leaving out the childish teasing which made me flip pages like crazy.
So thankfully, I felt no pain ( apologies for the unintended pun ) sitting through 2 hours of relatively normal dialogue. And FYI, the trailers and clips on YouTube really do no justice to the movie. Whoever orchestrated those should be flogged ( pun fully intended :)).
Second, the two lead actors are excellent casting choices. I previously watched Dakota Johnson in a TV sitcom ( so forgettable I can't even recall the title ) and had major reservations about her ability to handle this role, especially after seeing those clips where she talks like a wooden puppet. In the film proper, she's actually pretty impressive. With each passing minute, I became increasingly convinced that innocent Ana wasn't the pushover everyone thought she would be. I found the novel version of Ana extremely annoying, but Johnson makes her likable and believable.
Then there's Jamie Dornan, the Irish actor who took over when first choice, Charlie Hunnam, backed out. Most are probably more familiar with his work on the American series, Once Upon A Time, as The Huntsman, but I know him as Paul Spector, a vicious serial rapist / killer on the excellent BBC crime drama, The Fall. When his name was announced for Fifty Shades, I had no doubt he would nail the role, and nail it he did.
The physical part is easy - Dornan used to model for Calvin Klein and is clearly very comfortable with his body in front of the camera. He's tall, lean and walks with a sexy swagger. Though known to favour a scruffy look with thick facial hair and flattened locks, he's given a full makeover here and looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous. He's 33 compared to Christian's 25 but easily passes for the latter, thanks to his flawless skin, thick hair and cheeky smile.
As for the "essence" of Christian, well, Dornan hits it right out of the ball park. That casual yet confident air, the simmering undercurrent of danger, the occasional flash of boyish mischief - even my mum ( who's in her 70s ) admitted defeat and succumbed. :)
There's a scene in the second half where Christian takes Ana gliding, then they have a quiet moment standing outside a hangar before he leaves. Dornan looked like a gazillion dollars as his face was illuminated by the setting sun. It's been a while since my breath was taken away like this. Nothing EL James has written can compare with such a vision. My effusive thanks to the cinematographer! :D
Third, the debate about the questionable message being conveyed. Pornography disguised as a love story; anti-feminist; an erosion of family values, etc. Look, I'm a devout Christian and lead a clean life, and Fifty Shades doesn't bother me one bit. I know what the real world is like: people like Christian Grey exist; this film is R-rated, not PG13 - what is the big deal? Sex-wise, the novels are nothing compared to some hard-core stuff I've read ( as a teenager, mind you ). I didn't turn into a nymphomaniac dominatrix. As for the movie scenes, some people complain that they're too tame, but I personally prefer them this way. They conveyed what was needed to propel the story and weren't gratuitous. As for viewers who are on the other side of the fence - i.e. think they're too graphic - then let me steer you towards Shame ( Michael Fassbender ) and Boogie Nights ( Mark Wahlberg ).
I give huge credit to director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, for drawing great performances from her leads. I watched Nowhere Boy, which featured an amazing turn from a very young soon-to-be-star Aaron Johnson ( also her future husband ), and congratulate her on doing yet another admirable job.
Last, the movie soundtrack, which features a score by Danny Elfman ( of all people ) and a list of really beautiful pop / R&B songs. I've already downloaded the digital album and intend to play it on repeat for the next few weeks. Fabulous compilation. Sets the mood for the best scenes and makes them even better. There's a classical companion as well, which I will also sample.
Fifty Shades Of Grey received a sad 4.1/10 overall rating on IMDB, but definitely deserves something at least double that. I won't deny that I was fully prepared to hate the movie ( I went only because of Dornan, whom I consider worthy of my time ), but ended up thoroughly enjoying myself. Yes, it's totally unrealistic, but bestselling romances often are, and this has been a well-known fact for decades. I, for one, love such diversions, and couldn't be happier about spending 2 hours of my Chinese New Year afternoon at the cineplex.
Just wondering if I'll be able to get a copy when the DVD comes out. It isn't going to pass our censorship board or customs inspection.
p.s. Still very thrilled about brushing past one of the movie's producers - i.e. Dana Brunetti - at last April's New York Museum of the Moving Image gala tribute for Kevin Spacey. Was too shy to greet him then, but if there's a next time, I'm not going to let the chance pass me by. :)
I always get a massive adrenaline rush when I watch a great movie, but the one I experienced with Kingsman: The Secret Service was truly off the chart! At the end of 2 hours, I was so high I practically floated home. IMDB rating given: 10/10.
I became a fan of director Matthew Vaughn's work after the incredibly violent yet superbly executed Kick-Ass, which turned lead Aaron Johnson into a Hollywood star ( interesting convoluted connection to Fifty Shades Of Grey, helmed by Johnson's wife, haha ). After that breakthrough came X-Men: First Class, which was much less aggressive, more successful at the box office but equally enjoyable in its own way.
If I'm not wrong, Vaughn passed on the opportunity to direct an X-Men sequel, opting instead to pour his heart and soul ( plus his own money ) into Kingsman. It's a ballsy move but one I'm very grateful for, because I can no longer imagine life without this magnificent film.
Rid your mind of James Bond. That man is a wimp compared to Harry Hart / Galahad, played impeccably by Colin Firth. In an interview with Empire magazine, Firth revealed that he has never received any offer to play the British spy. But after seeing him in Kingsman, no-one will ever comprehend why he didn't make the cut.
Firth, after all, is known for playing gentlemanly characters - Mr. Darcy, King George VI, you get the idea. I don't recall him demonstrating any on-screen violence, much less move beyond the pace of a saunter. So it's no wonder my jaw hit the ground when he started bashing, shooting and stabbing people with deadly skill and great relish. It was actually shocking, but only for a split second, before the pleasure centre in my brain - whatever that's called - was activated and everything started to get saturated in a rosy hue. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But he looked damn amazing slicing his opponents open!
Vaughn already demonstrated his affinity for extreme depictions of bloodshed in Kick-Ass ( utilizing the very young Hit Girl in a disturbing yet strangely artistic way ), and does more of the same in Kingsman. This time, however, there's no concern regarding age limits ( many of the main characters in Kick-Ass were kids ). And the choreography is freaking awesome! I'm trying to figure out how much of the stunt work was performed by the actors themselves, and it's to Vaughn's credit for (a) making it quite impossible to tell, and (b) making the actors look bloody fabulous doing them.
In this day of massive blockbusters and Marvel superhero franchises, Vaughn shows he's a force to be reckoned with, delivering scenes that are thrilling and almost balletic in nature. I notice a penchant for slow motion, which can sometimes irritate, but here, it only enhances his artistry.
Casting unknown Taron Egerton is a stroke of genius. But hey, Vaughn is known to have a sharp eye for young talent - i.e. Aaron Johnson. I admit to feeling extremely guilty - EXTREMELY - about finding Egerton incredibly hot. The only way I will ever eliminate these feelings is by having a bilateral oophorectomy. Short of that, I'll just have to wait for menopause. :)
Not since Aaron Johnson have I been this excited about a new young male star. Like Johnson, Egerton looks deceptively docile and one-dimensional on the surface, but later turns out to be ferocious and quite complex. But the money shots are definitely the ones with Egerton wielding deadly weapons. That final showdown at the villain's lair, with Eggsy the killing machine pulverizing an army of guards before an eye-popping confrontation with Gazelle ( aka the gal with giant knife blades for legs ), had me practically jumping out of my seat! Unbelievable stuff!
The source material - Mark Millar's comic book series - is key. Millar also wrote Kick-Ass and Wanted ( another super-violent tale adapted into a 2008 Hollywood film starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman ), and after a while, you'll see the similarities. An underdog in the form of a downtrodden young man, a mentor who trains him to become a ruthless killer, and a memorable bad guy. In every one of these stories, the protagonist is vital, as is the actor chosen to play him. Egerton is as perfect a fit as anyone can hope for. Only 25 and already showing immense potential: handsome in a non-threatening way, rugged and athletic so he can handle the action without difficulty.
But aside from that, he needs the all-important X factor: charisma, charm, and something intangible which makes him stand out, even in the company of greats like Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson. Egerton achieves this effortlessly, even throwing in a flair for comedy. A true gem of a discovery. I look forward to his future projects with bated breath!
Plus a Kingsman sequel, of course. As many as possible. :)