OK, let’s get it out of the way, shall we? I am a member of the supposedly liberal media and as such Atlas Shrugged: Part II (or as the onscreen credit has it, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike) was made for an altogether different audience. I am not in sympathy with its source novel, its author or its author’s message. I detested Part I and feel similarly about this second installment — only perhaps more so because it’s longer, cheesier and more obnoxious in delivering its ham-fisted message. Part II continues the insult to Rand’s beached whale of a soap opera, diluting its over-heated nonsense so that it’s safe for mass consumption by the easily offended. But this goes further into the realm of insult, since the free market already turned up its nose at Part I, making this film an act of self-sacrifice on the part of its producers, who rather than call it a day, poured more money into this one. That is very un-Randian indeed. (Someone will undoubtedly come along to tell me why that assessment is wrong.) Now, Part II (given a bizarrely wide release) appears to be an even bigger flop than Part I. Will they now pour even more money into the theoretical Part III? Talk about an “orgy of self-sacrifice.”
The new film more or less picks up where the first one left off — at least once it gets past its TV-style grabber opening and goes into flashback mode for most of the movie. The world is still teetering on the brink, but it’s been tarted up with references to the 1 percent and Occupy Wall Street. Plus, the cast has magically changed. The new cast isn’t really any better or any worse. The new ones are just as stiff and charisma-challenged as the last ones, though Samantha Mathis’ Dagny Taggart looks more like a downtrodden 40-something than a glamorous leader of industry. (This is very much the fault of the filmmakers who invariably light and photograph her in the most unflattering ways possible.) And Jason Beghe’s Henry Reardon is so gravel-voiced and brusque that you’ll have to look hard to find anything more butch in this year’s movies. It’s easy to blast the actors, but the truth is they’re stuck in a movie where every scene is ultimately less drama than it is a right-wing rant. (And, no, it wouldn’t work any better if it was a left-wing rant.)
It’s all about the evil liberal government bringing the world to ruin, so the only real thinkers, shakers, movers and artists (huh?) are being spirited away to some kind of 1 percenter utopia by the shady, almost mythical figure of John Galt (the messianically back-lit D.B. Sweeney talking like Clint Eastwood). The idea is that this will bring “the motor of the world” to a grinding halt since we all know that only those at the very top have any abilities, right? OK, even if you buy into this — down to the absurd notion that a popular composer can destroy his entire catalogue of works — you might rightly wonder about all the fancy dress extras who are populating the film’s big party scenes and why they haven’t been recruited. There are clearly more of them than there are of the laughably miniscule “crowds” of protesters. (The world is going to hell, unemployment is rampant, gas is $42 a gallon, and yet there are never more than a handful of ragtag protestors while the rich keep on being monuments to conspicuous consumption right in front of them. Really?)
The whole thing is pretty absurd and badly dated. Are we honestly supposed to believe that Reardon would cave in to the evil government because it would “ruin” Dagny’s reputation (horrifyingly referred to as a “role model for young girls”) if it became known she was mousing around with a married man? That would be debatable even in 1957 when the book came out, but it’s ludicrous now. It doesn’t help that the production values wouldn’t cut the mustard on the SyFy Channel. (Hell, some of the shots of planes in flight would have been right at home in an episode of Thunderbirds.) But at bottom, this is a niche movie on a par with any cheapjack faith-based picture, which is why it resembles one — and only the most ardently faithful need apply. Rated PG-13 for brief language.