Greeting moviegoers less than two years after the release of the first film in the trilogy, “Atlas Shrugged: Part II – The Strike” comes equipped with a brand new director, cast, and writing team. Unfortunately, this complete creative overhaul results in little improvement over the lumbering, TV-grade original, which took Ayn Rand’s infamous 1957 literary manifesto and reduced it to a Tea Party field-trip opportunity. Both films are dramatically inert and ideologically vacuous — poor representations of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part II” begins right where its predecessor left off, in the near-future. Protagonist Dagny Taggart (now played by Samantha Mathis) is still the COO of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad and seeks a genius scientist to figure out the powerful motor prototype that she and steel-man Hank Rearden (Jason Beghe) found at the end of the first film. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increasingly moves towards Communism, making plays to control both Taggart Transcontinental and Rearden Metal, as unemployment and gas prices soar. Oh, and more important people disappear after uttering the still unexplained line “Who is John Galt?”
The film’s treatment of Rand’s core messages is impossible to take seriously from the start because, like its predecessor, it is not set far enough in the future (less than a decade from now) for the scenario to be credible. Sure, it’s feasible that unemployment could triple and gas could reach $40 a gallon within 10 years, especially if a war with Iran triggered a complete meltdown of the worldwide economy (this doesn’t happen in the film, which instead asks the viewer to blindly accept its set-up). But to argue that the U.S. government could shift to a mode of totalitarianism in which every worker’s wages are frozen and all companies are overseen by the government within such a timeframe is just plain ludicrous fear-mongering. Rand’s novel was an allegory set at an unspecified time in the future, but the movie adaptations treat it as a prophecy that has been accelerated by the Obama Administration, which may not be directly referenced but is certainly alluded to (for instance, business is regulated by the “Fair Share Act”).
In fact, it’s not leftists who will object to “Atlas Shrugged: Part II”; those looking for a popular example of far-right paranoia will embrace the film as ammunition. Instead, commonsense conservatives and fans of Rand’s more substantive treatment of these ideas are the ones who should be outraged by the film’s ridiculous implications about the degree to which Obama seeks to move toward socialism. (Of course, the film never explains how the U.S. transitioned from Obama to Rand’s all-powerful “Head of State” in under a decade.) Like the outrageous third act of Dinesh D’Souza’s recent documentary “2016: Obama’s America,” which suggested that Obama seeks to deliberately tank the U.S. economy to reduce our country’s influence around the world, “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” is a sad reflection of the views of a small but vocal wing of the extremist American right. As a moderate conservative myself, it’s frightening to me that anyone might interpret the film as an accurate representation of the values of the Republican Party — which is exactly what the liberal media will deceptively try to paint it as.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part II” isn’t just an ideological failure, either; it’s one of the most amateurish $10 million productions ever released. Aside from lead Samantha Mathis, who makes for a credible if not ideal Dagny Taggart, the acting is bad across the board. Jason Beghe is especially laughable as Rearden, with a voice so low that it sounds like he’s playing a smoker surfer on “Saturday Night Live.” Further, the visual effects for the film’s numerous action sequences–a train crash, a plane crash, a dangerous incident at Rearden Metal’s production facility, and more–consistently look as though they were rendered with 1980s technology. Then again, perhaps one just should be glad that the film contains action sequences, period, to keep it from reaching the mind-numbing point of dialogue-saturation that its predecessor did.
The producers of “Atlas Shrugged” have already pledged to make the final film in the trilogy, which “Part II” seemingly encourages viewers to await solely to learn the answer to the oft-posed question “Who is John Galt?” One can only hope that they deviate from Rand’s source material and make Galt a half-man, half-unicorn who loves to randomly burst out into renditions of ‘80s hair metal songs because, well, at least that would be smarter and more entertaining than the nonsense that the series has passed off as wisdom thus far.