Atlas Shrugged II Hits Theaters

Mark Tapson, a Hollywood-based writer and screenwriter, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He focuses on the politics of popular culture.


Thanks to Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan, America’s curiosity about philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand has peaked – just in time for the recent release of the second installment of a trilogy of films based on one of her gargantuan novels of ideas, Atlas Shrugged.

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person,” Ryan once said, “it would be Ayn Rand.” A potential vice-president inspired by Rand’s unequivocal, hyper-capitalist, hyper-individualist positions has galvanized the right about Romney’s campaign and terrified the collectivist left.

When Atlas Shrugged, Part I opened last year bearing its unapologetically right-leaning message, it unsurprisingly took a hammering from left-leaning mainstream movie critics, who either eagerly pounced on the flick or gave it the silent treatment so as not to bring any attention to it, even the negative sort. These are the same critics from whom seldom is heard a discouraging word about movies with heavy-handed progressive messages, such as Matt Damon’s action flop The Green Zone or Sean Penn’s preachy, sanctimonious Fair Game, both of which were made only to push the tired leftist propaganda that we went to war in Iraq on the basis of a Bush lie.

The New York Times called Atlas Shrugged, Part I “comically tasteless” in its delivery of “simplistic nostrums with smug self-satisfaction.” Rolling Stone said, in an inexplicably macabre comparison, that the “novel gets the low-budget, no-talent treatment and sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal.” Raking in a domestic gross of less than $5 million, Part I underwhelmed, and in the wake of this onslaught of negative reviews, the entire planned trilogy was left for dead.

But the determined producers scraped up the money for a reportedly even bigger budget for the next round. Part II underwent a complete recasting, with Samantha Mathis (probably best-known for American Psycho and Broken Arrow) as Rand’s steel-willed heroine Dagny Taggert and Jason Beghe as her male counterpart, steel man Henry Reardon.

This time around those same critics are largely ignoring it – there are fewer than half as many reviews counted on the review site RottenTomatoes.com as there were for Part I, and they are almost universally negative (and yet the audience ratings on the site for Part II are 80% positive, because in this day and age, self-important newspaper critics are no longer necessary or relevant). “There is almost no media interest in the movie, and that is no surprise given how the first part was treated. Hollywood wants it to go away – quickly,” said Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture for Media Research Center. So far the film has pulled in an estimated nearly $3 million.

[Very mild SPOILERS ahead]

The setting of Atlas Shrugged, Part II is like an extension of the current economic disaster wrought by President Barack Obama. The global economy is verging on collapse. Unemployment has skyrocketed to 24%. Gas is $42 per gallon. Occupy movement-types mill about on the sidewalks, protesting the 1%ers, and an oppressively bureaucratic government is stifling major industrialists like Taggert and Reardon, who employ thousands. The country’s most talented creators and brilliant minds are mysteriously disappearing. Taggart, COO of the family railroad business, has discovered the prototype of a revolutionary motor that could provide unlimited energy for the world, but its inventor too has disappeared. The race is on to find him before her business goes under.

Meanwhile Henry Rearden is brought before a government tribunal for defying the newly-enacted “Fair Share” law by refusing to sell his premium-quality steel to the government. Giving voice to Ayn Rand’s own philosophy, Rearden shocks the tribunal by forcefully and articulately defending his belief in the value of pursuing profit for purely personal reward. Much to the chagrin of these petty government officials, the people in the vast courtroom loudly support Rearden, and they’re forced to let him off with a slap on the wrist. However, the government then initiates martial law, freezes all employment and production, and seizes all patent rights (“The government takes what it wants and taxes the rest,” one businessman complains).

All the while, the mystery question “Who is John Galt?” is on everyone’s lips. Galt is an almost mythic, Promethean figure who symbolizes the power and glory of the human mind, standing in contrast to a society that has embraced the stultifying mediocrity and enforced egalitarianism which author Rand associated with socialism. Dagny Taggert is about to discover that Galt may be more than just a mere symbol after all.

[End SPOILERS]

As polarizing as Atlas Shrugged Part II is (it’s unlikely that any Democrats will fill the seats for it), and with a miniscule advertising budget, the film may not convert any leftists, but with luck it may sway some undecideds. It will certainly empower Rand fans and conservative audiences, however, especially as part of a whole raft of anti-Obama films available now, particularly the astonishingly successful Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America, which has become the second-biggest money-maker in documentary history. There are also the Citizens United documentaries Occupy Unmasked and The Hope and the Change, and of course Hating Breitbart, which doesn’t specifically target Obama so much as his Praetorian Guard, the mainstream media whom the late counterculture conservative Andrew Breitbart worked tirelessly to expose as a fifth column for Obama.

But Atlas Shrugged Part II is the only fictional film of the bunch, and as Ayn Rand herself declared, “Fiction is a much more powerful weapon to sell ideas than nonfiction.” The filmmakers of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy are hoping that her fiction brought to the big screen will help sell her ideas and put a positive, conservative influence on what is arguably the most important election in American history.

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  • seymourblogger

    I have no quibble with the message of Rand's Atlas. My negativity is toward the clowns who made her novel a travesty in Atlas 1 and again in Atlas 2. It would take a superior director and superior cast and it has neither. Nor did Atlas 1.

    The Cronenberg also eviscerated DeLillo's Cosmopolis, so Rand has nothing to do with the way I feel about the quality of her novel's film or DeLillo's.

    • http://www.facebook.com/davis.gp2012 Greg Davis

      What are you talking about blogger from Seymour? You haven't seen Atlas Shrugged Part 1 or 2 by your own admission.

      • seymourblogger

        Oh you have privileged knowledge of what I have done in the past few days? Are you stalking me?

  • oldtimer

    The book was written in the 1950s, so it is not really anti-obama, but is anti-socialist, where 0's ideas lean. Both movies were very good and amazingly prophetic. All should see and decide where they would rather be.

  • Jjdickson

    It's Taggart, not Taggert, and minuscule, not miniscule! Otherwise great stuff. Pedantically yours, Jonathan.

    • http://marktapson.blogspot.com MarkTapson

      Good eye – I have no problem with pedantic. "Miniscule" is actually an acceptable spelling (not to some, admittedly), but you got me on "Taggert." I'll try to get the editor to correct it.

  • Amiuse

    Will this be another " box office hit " like 2016 ? lol..a "cult classic " in its genre ? Will the married DeSouza show up with another married girlfreind at the Premier ? In $129 Glen Beck jeans ?
    I predict it will be a candidate for the right wing internet blog Oscar !!

    I'll be scalping tickets outside the Premier .

    • reader

      Wow. So disinterested that took down the price tag of the man's pants, of all things? Just your run of the mill stalker?

    • tagalog

      It will surely be no worse a cult movie than Kazan's Baby Doll or the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or If…, assuming it doesn't become one of those movies loved by the public but hated by the critics.

      I can remember when that film now touted as a landmark break-through movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey" was roundly panned by the most respectable film critics in the business when it was released. Only later did it become a classic of cinema, after it became a runaway blockbuster.

      I for one liked Atlas Shrugged I and I expect to like Atlas Shrugged II. I found it entertaining. It was at least as good as Saving Private Ryan was after you got past the first brilliant half-hour.

      • Wayne

        What do the critics know? It's almost uncanny; I seem to like everything they hate, and vice versa! They are "mind-apparatchiks". Never saw "Rocky Horror" and am not interested. Guess I'm a bit "intellectual." 2001 was good, though…

        • tagalog

          I remember in the mid-1970s, when the critics said that Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago was over-the-top. If anything, it was too mild.

  • BS77

    We liked Atlas Shrugged One………pretty good. Right now my favorite Atlas Shrugs……..is Pam Geller's website.

  • Questions

    Anyone who thinks that snobbish film critics single-handedly can deep-six a movie, as Mark Tapson apparently does, is living in fantasyland. Arguably the most popular Hollywood director of the last 15 years, Michael Bay ("Bad Boys," "The Rock," "Pearl Harbor," "Transformers" and sequels), has accumulated negative reviews that could pile up from my floor to my ceiling three times over. Yet he turns out box office gold every time.

    By the way, while we're on the subject of "preachy" and "sanctimonious" films, name me a single Christian-themed movie that doesn't answer to that description. I thought the whole idea of religion, in fact, was to be preachy and sanctimonious. Didacticism operates on both sides of the political aisle, amigo.

  • https://www.facebook.com/richard.terrell.524 Richard Terrell

    The new cast is better, but I don't think either film really captures Dagny Taggart very well. There is a segment of this film that features Sean Hannity, and when I saw it I thought Ayn Rand would roll over in her grave if she were to see it. I think they went too far in adapting the story to reflect immediate social realities. Yes, it gets preachy, but that is Rand's style. I wish they would have done more with the "bum on the train" scene and adaptation. That moment captures the essence of the whole story.

  • Jim_C

    As a kid, liking Rush's 2112 led me to Anthem, then to The Fountainhead, which was influential to me (although I balked at Rand's blatant anti-Christianity). But I liked the message of finding your own vision and being wary of those who try to make you conform, or criticize that vision out of jealousy. It's a good message in that regard, especially for teenagers.

    Never could get into Atlas Shrugged. Though I was open to the ideas I found it unreadable as a novel, so I have no idea how you make an unreadable novel into a watchable film. But I might give it a shot, someday, if only to revisit that mindset.

    • JoJoJams

      Rush 2112 ~ the concept album (where all the songs meld so the entire album tells a story) was what got me in to songwriting. Big influence for me, as well. RUSH RULES!! ~ (no, not limbaugh! the band! :-) )

  • http://www.buckeyesurf.com Dave

    I always thought it would be so good to have Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand turned into a movie. But Atlas Shrugged Part 1 was not very good and I am not expecting any better from Part 2. I hope people will still read the book, as it is the best book of our time. And particularily important today in our current culture and pending economic collapse. Hopefully the Tea Party movement will endure and Obama will be kicked out.
    If you want more info about atlas shrugged, check out atlasshruggedaynrandinfo.com

  • Dave Howard

    Our family saw AS II. The kids liked it. I thought it twice the movie of AS I. My wife went to the store and came home with a copy of Atlas Shrugged and We the Living. She is a SE Asian moslem.

  • another pedantic

    Its not only Taggart instead of Taggert, its also not Reardon, but Rearden. Same sentence, by the way.

  • Wayne

    I liked both part one and part two (but part of me fumes that I have to now wait for part three…) I applaud the attempt to circumvent the "Hollywood entertainment industry" in regards to distribution and showing. Apparatchiks always despise genuine creativity. Ferrante and Teicher made fun of this long ago with their "Theme to Rocky XIII" or something similarly titled…

    Politically, it may have been wise to present the story in the present or immediate future. Artistically, the 1930's would have been the perfect era to portray this story. Not only were railroads much more important then, but people still had taste, made beautiful things (premier example: S.S. Normandie) – and the possibilities for scenery and imagery (a' la the "new" King Kong, which managed to make a "perfect" 1930's New York)… cause my imagination to soar all over the Cosmos.

    Unfortunately, too, there are few actors or actresses available which could provide the desired gravitas for the kind of production of this story that my mind conjures… If you've read Ayn Rand's work "The Romantic Manifesto" you know why. We live in a debased, despicable and ugly age. If you doubt that, turn on the radio. Ah, the worshipful and artistically stupendous vision of this story my imagination conjures… filmed in black and white, no less… But I do wander far afield. See it! It's good, and I like to support "good" businesses with my money. I saw it at 7pm last Saturday, and there were about 30 people in the small theatre (capacity 50?) so that seems to be good thing.

    • Questions

      You believe that Michael Medved party line, too, I see. I'll take the "debased" fare currently playing. Consider: "Lawless," "Looper," "The Master," "End of Watch," and "Argo." Much more imaginative than Randian didacticism.

  • Ghostwriter

    I haven't seen "Atlas Shrugged" so I can't comment on it.

  • http://www.buckeyesurf.com Dave

    I always thought it would be so good to have Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand turned into a movie. But Atlas Shrugged Part 1 was not very good and I am not expecting any better from Part 2. I hope people will still read the book, as it is the best book of our time. And particularily important today in our current culture and pending economic collapse. Hopefully the Tea Party movement will endure and Obama will be kicked out.
    atlas shrugged and ayn rand info

  • Tim

    “I liked both part one and part two (but part of me fumes that I have to now wait for part three…”

    I have a feeling that’s gonna be a long wait.