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Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike

2012 | 112 min | PG-13 | 1.78:1

Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike


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Theatrical release date

 12 October, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike Blu-ray

Atlas Shrugged: Part II ‑ The Strike Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 12, 2012

I missed out on reviewing last year’s “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” for many reasons, with limited theater availability and a lack of personal interest my primary motivation to pass on an opportunity to screen the picture. Also a compelling reason to dodge the feature was the furor surrounding the film’s inspiration, as I knew little about author Ayn Rand outside of her basic philosophical leanings, which appear to cause a great deal of wonderful people a considerable amount of unnecessary frustration. Despite an admirable push to generate some hoopla around the release, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” bombed at the box office and then gathered dust as a home video release. It seemed as though this “Part I” of a proposed trilogy would be as far as Rand’s most successful work would get on the big screen. However, never underestimate the power of a wealthy producer (in this case, John Aglialoro). 18 months later, and we now have “Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike.” It’s time for me to bite the bullet.

When we last saw Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis), she was left with the mystery of John Galt and his mission to tempt America’s leading minds into hiding, leaving the country to burn under increasingly hostile government control. Watching brother James (Patrick Fabian) fumble control of the family railroad business, Dagny figures out on her own plans of energy salvation, working with scientist Quentin Daniels (Diedrich Bader) to bring a special static electricity device to life, thus solving the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Suffering through the volcanic economic change is Henry Rearden (Jason Beghe), a super-steel magnate about to lose his thriving business to the sticky-fingered demons of Washington, while his tender affair with Dagny is challenged by frosty wife Lillian (Kim Rhodes). Working to crack the static electricity solution while keeping her family business afloat despite mismanagement and horrifying train disasters, Dagny finds herself inching closer to the John Galt enigma, watching as more men are snatched away by a movement that believes in individual industrial control and the betterment of humanity through self-preservation.

While the story and the John Galt question are furthered along in “Part II,” this isn’t the same “Atlas Shrugged” as before. While the original picture enjoyed a mid-to-low budget, building the Rand world through lavish business offices, cold Colorado streets, and tastefully decorated social gatherings, “Part II” has been constructed with a noticeable lack of money, with the look of the feature considerably smaller in scope, while visual effects, a noted failure in the first movie, are even worse, with ugly, unsteady CGI reinforcing the somewhat hasty plan to make a sequel nobody really asked for. Coins have been counted for “Part II,” and while most follow-ups largely attempt to out-wow their cinematic antecedent, this effort is clearly struggling to maintain a hold on a futureworld of misery. The empty cities, expansive railroad lines, and towering buildings just don’t have the stability and size to convince.

Interestingly, perhaps the producers of “Part II” were more aware of the complaints leveled at “Part I” than previously thought. There’s an enormous amount of course correction going on in the sequel, with the script emphasizing action and suspense when the original film could barely muster a raised eyebrow during its seemingly endless parade of hushed corporate dealings. Boardroom happenings and office showdowns remain a primary component of the picture, yet “Part II” looks to thrill the audience, even opening with a flash-forward to the climatic private jet chase, displaying a sci-fi-tinged hot pursuit before people have a chance to settle into their theater seats. Government takeovers are given a little more venom, there’s a massive third-act train accident, and the cocktail hour atmosphere of “Part I” has been replaced with a doomsday ambiance, finding the Fair Share Act inspiring citizens to protest, with one grizzled individual at a bus stop taking a moment to carve out a tombstone for the death of America. There’s even a pronounced effort to inject a little more sex appeal into “Part II,” with Mathis wearing a series of cleavage-boosting outfits, while Lillian is reimagined as a dominatrix-type, with steel bangs and sleek clothes, making the character stand out as a threat.

Curiously, the ensemble has been completely replaced for “Part II.” Not a soul from the original film has returned, for reasons unknown. Fresh thespian blood helps to buoy the effort to a degree, with Mathis a more compelling presence as Dagny. She can’t match Taylor Schilling’s modelesque poise in “Part I,” but Mathis is a more emotionally available performer, helping to understand the character’s sense of concern and exhaustion with the continued unavailability of the world’s leading minds. Beghe makes for a more commanding Rearden, with his growly voice and prizefighter slouch creating a stronger portrait of a man trying to protect his business in the face of government rule. Rhodes also makes a wonderful impression as Lillian, cranking up the spousal villainy to pleasing levels of camp. The only actor here that’s real trouble is Esai Morales, who goes full ham as mine tycoon Francisco d’Anconia, treating his speeches as acting school audition opportunities, with discomfort clearly visible on the faces of his slightly more subtle co-stars.

There is a collection of recognizable faces peppered throughout the picture, a grand departure from “Part I” and its mostly unfamiliar cast. Ayre Gross, Thomas F. Wilson, Richard T. Jones, Michael Gross, Patricia Tallman, Paul McCrane, D.B. Sweeney, Ray Wise, and Teller (of Penn & Teller) join the “Part II” economic apocalypse party. It’s not a marquee-melting supporting cast, but famous character actors ease the viewing experience, contributing little blasts of personality.

Obviously, “Atlas Shrugged” is a political story and a slightly goofy one at that. Whatever relevance the material had in its publication year of 1957 is largely diluted now, with the world’s overpopulation woes posing a great challenge to Rand’s construction of objectivism. The producers introduce a 99 percenters tone to the sequel (while oddly removing mentions of its 2017 setting) to keep the tale timely, while the rampant abuse of government power and social control provides a defined parallel to the challenges of this election year. The portrait of American gloom and doom has its layers of meanings and philosophies, but I’d rather approach “Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike” as a clumsy B-movie with occasional entertainment value, mildly enjoying its determined take on bullet trains, super steel, and the mystery of this John Galt fellow, who finally comes into play in the feature’s closing moments, triggering yet another cliffhanger conclusion when it seems impossible a “Part III” will ever be made. Then again, I didn’t think we’d see a “Part II,” creating genuine interest in the monetary and casting direction the next installment might take.

Starring: Samantha Mathis, D.B. Sweeney, Michael Gross, Ray Wise, Jason Beghe, Esai Morales
Director: John Putch

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