As a film, judged on its own and without any knowledge of what might be coming in the next two installments of this intended trilogy, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a surprisingly, almost stringently feminist work. Unlike Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, which centered on a teenage girl giving up all of her aspirations and values in exchange for a hot vampire, this more adult, fetishistic variation on the same general ideas and conflicts introduces virginal protagonist Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) to a carnal subculture she has never known, then gives her the voice to stand up for herself and her feelings. She is still objectified by the camera—note that there is plenty of female nudity on display but barely any male—but director Sam Taylor-Johnson (2010's "Nowhere Boy") recognizes that this is the whole point. As much as her kinky, ultimately damaged beau Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) might claim the contrary, he stubbornly clings to his own desires while treating her as property. Or, at least it is implied he is getting off. One can never be sure because the film is so tame and erotically limp, with every sex scene hastily rushing to a cheesy anticlimactic dissolve.
Based on the massively popular novel by E.L. James (the first in an erotica trio that have collectively sold over 100 million copies worldwide), "Fifty Shades of Grey" plays things frustratingly safe. For a high-profile adaptation of a book that is decidedly graphic in nature, it is all talk and ho-hum action, a conservative, almost Disneyfied portrait of sexual BDSM practices between one character who says he's turned on but never looks it and another who is humoring him but doesn't share his fixations. By neglecting a deeper exploration of this topic and not bothering to portray anything resembling abandon or pleasure from either participant, Taylor-Johnson drains her film of spontaneity and joy. Every frame is too pretty by a half, glaringly negotiated within an inch of its life by behind-the-scenes bureaucracy that allows neither actor, in its most sensitive scenes, to just let go.
See Dustin Putman, TheFilmFile.com. for full review