Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike

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Remo D
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Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike

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"But I just had to look... having read the book..."

Oh, wait--that's how I opened my review of Part I. How about...

"Second verse, same as the first! A little bit louder and a little bit worse!"

Well... even that's not QUITE accurate, but it will have to do. I've covered my thoughts on Ayn Rand's novel and its application to the long-delayed, "impossible" and impoverished film adaptation quite well enough last year (and I'm sure you can find the review if you dig back). But since the first one did so badly, the makers have chucked and replaced the ENTIRE cast and the director.

Now we have Samantha Mathis (PUMP UP THE VOLUME) as Dagny Taggart, and Jason Beghe (MONKEY SHINES) as Henry Rearden. I was hoping for a full-on George Romero double-header in the presence of my friend Patricia Tallman (KNIGHTRIDERS, Savini's NOTLD), but alas, she only has one scene--I would have loved to see her in one of the leads. Still, the new cast was intelligently chosen--Esai Morales was a good choice for Francisco D'Acconio, and you get neat little surprises like Robert Picardo (a scientist who has to admit he was wrong) and Ray Wise (the "Head of State" who declares the emergency order to commandeer each and every job, wage, copyright and patent in the entire country with the swipe of a pen).

Part II actually opens with Dagny in air pursuit of one of the last vanishing "contributing" members of society, causing me to think "Boy, did THEY skip a huge chunk of the book," but no, that was only a teaser of the END of the movie. We actually start "Nine Months Earlier," shortly after Ellis Wyatt has set fire to his own oil field (and vanished).

Don't ask me to fill in the blanks--if you haven't read the book or seen Part I, you don't have a prayer. Who is John Galt? (By the end of Part II, you'll be as sick of this question as Dagny herself.)

As I hinted earlier, the cast is quite well-chosen, but they can't save this middle section of the epic from being even slower and talkier than the first one. Beghe comes off best as the put-upon Henry Rearden (though he kept reminding me of Michael Rooker, for some reason). He and Dagny are the central characters, and our exclusive sympathy is supposed to be reserved for them--they're the producers of value that struggle to maintain against the "looters" (read: the government and "the 99%", which has been upgraded to "the 99.88 percent" in this not-too-distant future). Oh, the ATLAS filmmakers must be having a field day with the "Occupy" movement, etc. Well, one can certainly sympathize with good old Hank as he declares that he and he alone should be entitled to the fruits of his labors (and we get the cheering courtroom crowd to back that up, of course), but his attitude more than speaks for itself and goes far beyond that simple, heartfelt philosophy, especially in Part II. To hear Hank tell it, his status as a "producer of value" not only entitles him to his own profits: it also elevates him above any and all laws. He doesn't acknowledge the authority of the government to tell him to do ANYTHING (yes, the government makes outrageous demands in this scenario, but I'm sure that Hank finds even basic income tax beneath him). He's not happy with his wife, so neither do the laws and vows of his marriage apply to him. He should simply be free to do whatever he wants, bed whomever he wants, etc., and how dare ANYBODY suggest that he suffer ANY sort of repercussions? Dammit, he's Hank Rearden and he's BETTER than you, so the dramatic moment in which he's finally blackmailed into signing over his copyrights is supposed to be absolutely devastating to the viewer. Frankly, I thought "Well, what the hell did you THINK would happen?"

Now, I'm fully aware that this movie is a representation of Ayn Rand's philosophy--I have no business bending it to my own in order to criticize it as a movie. The mammoth book WAS a compelling narrative with terrific characters, and it gave me plenty to THINK about--therefore, it was a success. And Part II, in addition to boasting a most agreeable cast, manages to pick up some elements I thought had been left in the dust in Part I (for instance, Francisco's diatribe on the true value of money, which has been shunted over to a different dramatic moment here). But not even this cast can save the chunky midsection of the book from becoming an even slower-moving talk-fest than Part I. Oh yes, I still hope to see a dramatization of the final movement of the book, in which the saintly "value makers," having formed their own private, inaccessible paradise, let the "looters" and the rest of the world go straight to hell. And I hope they remember to include the death ray (yes, there really was one in the book), especially as we seem to have lost track of Ragnar the Pirate at this juncture.

But as this latest theatrical flop (once again, I was virtually alone in the biggest auditorium in the arthouse) seems to have spent everything on an improved cast, all the crew can do to spice things up is give us would-be-spectacular train and plane disasters on the effects budget of 2-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, causing me to wonder if the grand finale will premiere on the Syfy Channel. Still, I've come this far, and I do want to see what they do with it... so I hope it happens.
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