Fox // 2012 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // March 12th, 2013
Everything has a breaking point.
Atlas Shrugged: Part I was justifiably labeled a failure. Not only was it handicapped by a script and acting drier than melba toast, it was also trounced by critics and the free market (read: moviegoers). Lots of folks have pointed out the irony of Atlas Shrugged: Part II being released despite the invisible hand of capitalism giving it a middle finger. But with an entirely rebooted cast and crew, the producers at least tried to keep this project from winding up like History of the World, Part I. (Actually, if this was as funny as that movie, I wouldn't mind as much...)
Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis, Broken Arrow) is caught in a race against time: the industrialists and creators of the world are disappearing (er, "going Galt"); the global economy is tanking fast thanks to some government equality bill and a lack of energy resources; her railway is falling apart (and blowing up); AND she has an old motor that, if fixed, could solve the world's problems.
Through it all, Dagny's best friend, steel magnate Hank Rearden (Jason Beghe, Thelma and Louise), is fighting the government over having to sell them metal, and her childhood buddy Francisco d'Anconia (Esai Morales, La Bamba) is crashing weddings and blowing up coal mines.
At the end of the day, our libertarian heroes are just trying to keep the motor of the world running...and figure out who the heck John Galt is.
Recasting characters in a film series is always a tricky proposition. Obviously, it happens -- from minor changes like Terrence Howard leaving the Iron Man franchise, to big ones like the various James Bonds -- and its effect on the overall quality of the film is dependent on two things: the strength of the original actor and the strength of the script. For Atlas Shrugged, neither were all that great to begin with.
The second installment, referred to occasionally as "The Strike," isn't much better than the first. In fact, most of the problems with the franchise are still there. The script, this time written by Duke Sandefur, Brian Patrick O'Toole, and Duncan Scott, is still a mess of wordy expositions and ideological monologuing. Characters talk like they're in a Greek morality play, but now they have the added burden of restating stuff from the first movie to get everyone up to speed. Making matters worse, the modernization of the film (which is the fault of the first movie, not this writing team) continues to highlight the absurd situation America finds itself in. To keep things topical, there are some 99 percent-ers tossed in there, but I can't quite understand what they're upset about (then again, I said that in real life too).
Atlas Shrugge: Part II has the thankless task of filling about two hours without any real dramatic arc. It's all escalation, leading to a fairly effective cliffhanger (which actually starts and ends the movie). This isn't Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, though...heck, it's not even The Matrix Reloaded. There's no tension or momentum to push this story along. You can't really milk any from the countless shots of people walking down hallways in suits; you'll be too busy trying to figure out who's who -- is that guy a government looter or a spineless leech? The only moments of excitement come when something explodes. That's true of most movies, I guess.
The cast, by and large, is another collection of stable character actors -- including Ray Wise, Diedrich Bader, and a surprising cameo by Teller (of Penn and Teller!). I can tell that most of them are trying their best, but not everyone is that great at plowing through beefy lines about government regulation and Objectivism. Samantha Mathis at least presents Dagny as a little more emotional than Taylor Schilling; Jason Beghe, however, is a total misfire as Rearden. It's not that he's bad, he just doesn't fit the part; all of his lines sound like either a mob boss or a movie trailer voiceover.
Directed by John Putch (Cougar Town), Atlas Shrugged: Part II has the look and feel of a hermetically sealed, low-budget, Hallmark film. It's a purely independent film, but it doesn't have any of the good qualities of a privately financed picture. Instead, it has a bunch of shiny CGI, sets filled with too few extras, and empty streets supposedly brimming with turmoil. While interior scenes look good, the sets themselves are fairly generic.
None of it is terribly impressive under the sharp judgment of 1080p. The film's transfer is sharp and colorful, and its DTS HD 5.1 surround sound mix is solid, but none of it covers the fact that the production design is lacking. The Blu-ray also features an extended segment with Sean Hannity and the cast from FOX News (who play themselves as commentators), a behind the scenes look at the production, and a series of deleted scenes.
It ultimately doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, or what literary merit you think Ayn Rand holds; this isn't a very good movie. At this point, I'd like to see the final chapter in this saga -- but all of this feels like such a hassle. These films are being produced out of obligation to the rights holders. I don't know too many movies that succeeded as art based on that premise.
Atlas Shrugged: Part II is a decent enough Blu-ray of a fairly boring, low-budget film. The invisible hand of capitalism better slap some sense into the producers, who are inevitably working on the final chapter.
Who is John Guilty?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Extended Footage
* Deleted Scenes