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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atlas Sucked: Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike (2012)

Written by Duke Sandefur, Brian Patrick O'Toole and Duncan Scott, based on the novel by Ayn Rand
Directed by John Putch

Samantha Mathis:  Dagny Taggart (Mark II)
Jason Beghe:  Hank Rearden (Mark II)
Esai Morales:  Francisco D'Anconia (Mark II)
Patrick Fabian:  James Taggart (Mark II)
D. B. Sweeney:  John Galt (Mark II)

With appearances by Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, Robert Picardo, Diedrich Bader, Patricia Tallman, Michael Gross and Teller

Man, I'd love to know exactly what happened in between Movie Number One and Movie Number Two. The entire principal cast has been swapped out for different actors (I can understand Taylor Schilling not wanting to return; she had Argo and Orange is the New Black waiting for her in the future and she might have been priced out of the producers' range with a Best Picture winner under her belt). But how did they wind up having to recast even the secondary parts? I don't think Jon Polito and Michael Lerner would have minded coming back. One hypothesis:  The check bounced. Actors like to act, but they don't like to do it for nothing. A second one:  The filmmakers didn't realize they needed to put sequel appearances in the contracts of any of the actors, and missed out on a chance to get them back.

The first hypothesis would mean the filmmakers were liars (and would easily get caught; I'm sure actors tell other actors what to expect from different production companies). The second one would mean that they literally did not know how to make a movie. At the time this movie was being filmed, Samuel L. Jackson had been in four different Marvel Studios films as Nick Fury and had given interviews saying he'd been contracted to appear in almost a dozen of them. The Lord of the Rings movies were well-known in cinema dork circles for the unconventional production strategy of filming the entire trilogy in one huge sequence so that all of the nine actors portraying the Fellowship could have their schedules synchronized and delays would be minimized over the decade-long process of getting the films made. None of this was secret. If the Atlas Shrugged filmmakers were willing to pay attention and change their plans based on other things that actually worked for other artists, they could have done the same things. But--for whatever reason--they chose not to do things that way.

According to the IMDB and Wikipedia, this movie cost more than the first film in the series--but had a shorter production schedule--and made less money at the box office (despite opening in three times as many theaters as Part One). If one follows the Randian edict that the free market establishes the value of any work of art, that would mean this film is worse than the competently made first one (though nothing could have helped the clunky dialogue that ran the full alchemical range from wooden to leaden). If Ayn Rand was right about anything at all over her lifetime, if A is A, if things are always what they are and cannot be anything else, if the market is the only way to determine the value of anything, then this movie--along with the other two in the series--are gigantic heaps of rotting dogshit. I wouldn't go that far for the first movie--it was competently made and had some decent camerawork during the anniversary party scene, at least, and the actors did what they could with some really, really awful dialogue. Taylor Schilling should be singled out as singularly effective at showing Dagny Taggart's drive and ambition. But we're not looking for my opinion here, we're looking for Ayn Rand's.

Speaking of that shortened production schedule, there's an extra space in one of the titles at the beginning setting up the world (it's the near future; 2016 is not specifically mentioned). Commercial auto and air travel are greatly decreased, and only the tax funded subsidy sponges known as "trains" move people and goods around the country.

Then the first shot of the movie is a jet plane being followed by another jet plane. It's a good thing the new model Dagny Taggart is wearing her Rearden metal bracelet, because I wouldn't have known the pilot of one of the jets was supposed to be her otherwise (there wasn't anything in the first movie about her having a pilot's license). She's pursuing another plane with an unreadably dead expression on her face. The movie takes the intriguing step of not telling the audience who is in the other plane or why Dagny is following it; in fact, there's no dialogue in this sequence at all. The lead plane vanishes in a blip of energy and it looks like Dagny's going to ruggedly and individualistically pilot her bird straight into a mountain while asking "Who is John Galt?"; the first sentence spoken in this movie. The second one, too, for what that's worth.

Nine months earlier, Dagny is driving her Dr. Evil go kart down a secret underground  tunnel on rails (and I call bullshit--a REAL Randian hero doesn't follow the path some government functionary set down on rails!) while Dr. Robert Stadler (Robert Picardo) explains that the free-energy motor she discovered at the end of the last movie in the deserts of Wisconsin could instantly revitalize the global economy and permanently end American reliance on foreign oil. She's got the motor in a secret underground lab behind two different keypad-controlled doors and under a tarp; Stadler checks it out while the dialogue establishes that nobody filed a patent for the world-changing Wonder Thingy. Also, according to the doctor, there's a part missing from the motor. He also takes time to declare that Dagny is awesome for building a railroad even when the State Scientific Institute said it would be unsafe, because the chief personality characteristic of the heroes in this film is narcissism so massive and dense that it should have its own event horizon.

While inspecting the motor, some clunky exposition gets batted around by Dagny and Stadler--the piece of technology is so advanced and awesome that the SSI should have known about it, but they didn't. Nobody alive could have made it, and all the really great minds in America have been disappearing (which neither the tycoon nor the government weasel have any answers for). Stadler wants to check the engine out at a government lab, but Dagny just shuts it away in its secret compartment. Stadler also says he knows he isn't qualified to figure out how to make the engine work because whatever's behind the vanishing one percenters, he's been left alone.

Outside of Taggart Midtown Station in NYC, a group of protesters who represent the 99.98% are waving signs outside. I don't know if the tiny group is supposed to mean that nobody really agreed with the Occupy movement or that the filmmakers didn't have enough money to get more than a dozen or so sign-wavers. An expository newscast mentions the Fair Share Act, which was meant to get goods and services in the hands of Americans equally but has resulted in massive business shutdowns and closures. Wesley Mouch (upgraded from the Mayor of New York in the terrible American Godzilla to the guy in RoboCop who takes a bath in toxic waste) is behind the new law and says it's just a temporary setback.

In the back of her limo, Dagny asks her personal assistant Eddie Willers what happened to all the men of vision that could have reversed the decline of America (he, because his job depends on his boss being happy, says he's in the car with someone who could do just that). Apparently everyone who would have been working on electric or solar cars is among their number, incidentally, because this near-future dystopia doesn't appear to have any hybrid cars, let alone full-on electrics. That might have been something the filmmakers didn't want to include, since Randian politics are slightly to the right of Genghis Khan and hybrid or electric vehicles tend to be a more left-wing kind of thing (here in Ann Arbor, for example, there are charging stations in several public parking lots).

Another expository newscast brings up "Wyatt's Torch", the burning oil field from the very end of the first movie. Oil billionaire Ellis Wyatt was one of the disappeared; before he left for wherever it is he went, he set fire to his own oil fields, causing at least tens of millions of dollars in damage as well as destroying the livelihood of every single one of his employees--not that the film ever seems to notice that Wyatt wouldn't have been capable of drilling every well himself. He also left a sign saying he's leaving the fields as he found them, which is pretty unlikely unless he put out all the oil well fires that were there when he moved in (I like to imagine him shoveling dirt on one well fire until it's out, drinking a glass of ice water, and moving on to the next like the Paul Bunyan of petroleum extraction). Dagny believes the fields are still burning because everyone capable of putting the fires out has already gone missing. She laments that everyone that could save the country has gone. The limo (burning gas at over 40 bucks a gallon) passes by knots of homeless people, including a guy selling gas by the gallon on a card table; I'm not entirely sure what people are going to do with half a gallon of gas unless they want to follow in Wyatt's footsteps and get into the arson business.

At Taggart Transcontinental HQ, Dagny looks over the Colorado route--the one where the rails are made of super awesome Rearden metal, and finds that they're running about one sixth as many trains as they used to, and with all of the Wyatt Petroleum products they used to haul currently on fire and turning into greenhouse gases, there aren't enough products and commodities to make even the single biweekly run profitable any more. This is blamed on further CEO disappearances; however, it's important to note that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs no longer have anything to do with their iconic corporations but software still gets released and Apple just came out with a Dick Tracy watch. I'm not entirely sure that the one person at the top of the org chart is capable of bringing their entire enterprise to an immediate halt by going missing. Dagny also says that under the government's control of a coal company, not a single lump has been mined. I realize that 2015 isn't 1957 and I have a different perspective on things than Rand did, but certainly Ayn Rand had to have noticed that when the government decided to split the motherfucking atom a decade and change before she wrote Atlas Shrugged it got done, even without Henry Ford's help. Or possibly "especially", because Ford--the archetypal American man of industry--was a Nazi and probably wouldn't have wanted to help defeat the Third Reich if he could possibly avoid it.

While the soundtrack plays the kind of gentle piano noodling that usually gets laid down over a scene of visiting a child in the hospital, Dagny shuts down the 93 line since it's not profitable, even if it was the one she most wanted to succeed. She sits in her office and reflects while the piano music tinkles onward, and then we get Sean Hannity yelling into the camera about how great Rearden metal is, and how Hank Rearden is an American hero for developing it. Juan Williams and two other people I didn't recognize are in this segment as well (I don't believe the woman in this group got a single syllable of dialogue), and then there's a jump cut to a crucible full of molten metal being poured. Did I just see fan service for teabaggers? Yes, I think I did.

Hank Rearden is in his office setting priorities for orders, as CEOs do because there's nobody else in the entire company that could possibly manage that. Dagny calls and tells him she's shut down the Rearden metal line. They set up a meeting / date and as soon as Rearden hangs up, a pencil neck from the State Science Institute shows up for a long-delayed meeting of his own. Rearden declares that the functionary is the most dedicated looter he's ever seen (he defines "looter" as someone who acquires something he didn't make himself; I wonder how Hank Rearden feels about restaurant food or supermarkets). Rearden wants to know what the SSI wants with 200,000 pounds of his new steel before he'll sell it to them (which makes him the rare right-winger who puts his own principles above making a shit ton of money). He's willing to let the government take as much Rearden metal as they can, but says he'll never accept payment from them for any amount.

Back at Taggart Transcon HQ, it turns out that James Taggart, useless layabout and company president, needs to sign an order shutting down the Colorado line; he's nowhere to be found when he's needed, but turns out to be surrounded by the poors, having his driver hand out money to the lazy freeloaders so he can rent their love. He goes to buy a few neckties in a scene that probably was supposed to be filmed someplace more impressive than a Big Lots, and the cashier recognizes him on sight, as most hourly retail employees would--after all, he's the CEO of a train company! She also credits him with building the John Galt train line (which, as all of us remember from the last movie, was actually done by his sister Dagny). He accepts her advice on which tie to buy from the rack by the magazines but not near the CD players and asks if she's ever had a limo ride before. In the previous movie James was a snot but in this one he's an Olympic-class creeper.

James takes her to a solo concert where Richard Halley is playing his own compositions. I expected to see her in the Save & Spend employee shirt but she happens to have an evening gown handy. I don't know shit about shit when it comes to contemporary classical piano, so I'm recusing myself from commenting on the piece performed here. The audience gives it a standing ovation, for what that's worth. And then a mysterious man the viewing audience cannot see asks the performer if he's ready. When the curtain comes up for an encore, there's nobody on the stage an a note on the Steinway's music stand asks "Who is John Galt?". I'd say the inevitable reveal was handled pretty nicely.

Back at Taggart Central, a security guy in the lobby (played by silent conjurer Teller, if you'd like to hear his voice) has a quick cameo while trying to steer Dagny away from some protesters outside. He gets a closeup, in case audience members didn't realize it was him. I was hoping there'd be a silent cameo from Penn Jillette in the same scene, but it was not to be. Rearden and Dagny Taggart are off on their vacation jaunt talking about Richard Halley's disappearance, and I'd suspect Teller, cause that guy is used to making things and people vanish on stage. Anyway, the pair of tycoons discuss the slow collapse of the American free enterprise system and Rearden makes sure to mention that they'd earned their successes. Which kinda flies in the face of Dagny mentioning that her great-grandfather founded the rail company she runs how; sure, she won the birth lottery and appears to be a capable CEO, but it's not like she worked her way up from the mail room if three previous generations of Taggarts were running Taggart TC.

Hank takes her hand and meets her gaze in a scene that made me wonder why the hell he wasn't watching the road. They leave New York City on an empty Brooklyn Bridge that does look pretty spooky-cool when there's only one car on it. Courtesy of an ominous musical sting and a jump cut, three days later Dagny and an egghead named Quentin Daniels are looking at the mystery motor, but this time one of them has a magnifying glass so they'll figure out how to make it work, I'm sure. And Daniels figures out that it's a working model because it's got scuff marks on it; he refuses to be paid for coming up with a way to make the wonder motor work and build more of them but tells Dagny she'll need to give him whatever equipment or gear he needs to do whatever the hell it is he's doing before he starves to death because food costs money and he's working for nothing. There's a bafflingly weird exchange between the two of them where Dagny agrees to let him skin her alive if he makes the motor work. I have absolutely no idea whether the characters are serious or not thanks to the limited thespian talent on display.

In a hotel room conference, Hank Rearden and coal mine owner Ken Danagger work out an informal deal to get mine props made of Rearden metal to keep tunnels from collapsing--and when Rearden mentions that he needs coal to make steel so that trains can run on tracks to ship things to market, neither the actor nor the filmmakers seem to realize that he's cutting the entire premise of awesome genius badasses doing things as individuals off at the knees. Atlas might be holding the entire world up by himself but Hank Rearden just declared that nobody can go it alone even in the high-stakes world of Business Smartology. After the handshake deal to work around the Fair Share Act, the coal mine owner leaves and Hank settles down to take a nap in a chair, only to be surprised by his wife Lillian (played by a different actress, just like everyone else in the film). It's disorienting to realize I'm supposed to know who these characters are because it's an adaptation of the same work, but nobody reprised their roles. It's like a macro version of "you're just like Peter, but you're Steven" from The Room. Anyway, Lillian Rearden reminds her husband that James Taggart is getting married that night and they're going to the wedding. She also thinks he's having an affair because there's lunch leftovers from his business chat with Danagger.

Hank doesn't want to go to the wedding--more out of a distaste for James Taggart than anything. His wife basically tells him he should go to make her happy and he grudgingly agrees, but informs Lillian that she needs to get her own hotel room. The hell? The wedding reception is another big crowd scene, and I wonder if this is a way to get investors to kick in for production--promising them they can be in the movie if they pony up enough money. James' bride, who turns out to be the woman he met giving him a necktie recommendation at Big Lots, says she'll be protecting him from Dagny, who has taken credit for all of his achievements. They look daggers at each other and part.

Hey, Francisco D'Anconia's back! And he's chatting with Dagny, which appears to be making Hank Rearden jealous (because she's only allowed infidelity with him, I guess). They have an elliptical conversation about who John Galt is (and whether or not there really is a single human individual who is John Galt, or if he's just an idea). D'Anconia asks what Dagny would do if she "held the motor of the world" in her hands, and then walks off. Which gives Lillian Rearden a chance to show up and offer to swap Dagny's necklace (from the first movie) back for the bracelet of Rearden metal (ditto). The props in the movie are the same, but the actors aren't. It's distracting. Although not as distracting as James Taggart's epically shitty wedding toast about economic barriers. And it gets much worse when Francisco D'Anconia hijacks it to talk about how it's really important how someone makes their money because only by creating something of value can one's bank account be filled honorably.

An array of straw men are set up and knocked down during D'Anconia's monologue; he also claims that making money through sheer awesomeness and genius is better than making money by using political clout and that society is a step away from slavery because people aren't using dollars earned the right way to keep score any more. His speech made, James Taggart asks him to leave the wedding (which is the first sensible thing Taggart's done in one and a third movies). Rearden pursues the departing man, who tells him that he's destroying the value of his corporation intentionally (burning down docks and burying his ore mines under landslides) so that he can wipe out people who don't deserve to be rich--and who also own stock in his company. I'm sure nobody's going to get hurt trying to fight the inferno-level fire and that nobody's going to be standing where the avalanche hits, either, because those are things you can predict and control. It's also a certainty that none of the miners whose livelihoods will be ruined would know how to dig a hole in the ground and go back to mining ore.

In her hotel room, there's a lingering pan across Dagny's body as she sleeps, reminding a generation of men why they liked the ending of Pump Up the Volume. Hank Rearden joins her in bed (having taken off his suit jacket, but with his shoes still on) and says he's dropped his wife off at the train station so they won't have to worry about a surprise visit. Hooray for the Nietzschean morality of the super rich! Also hooray for the cleverness of Lillian Rearden, who waits for her husband in his hotel room. She's pissed, which is pretty justifiable, and Hank says she's entitled to one (1) remark about his infidelity and that he'll be generous enough to allow her to divorce him now. She tells him that she'd rather stay rich, famous, and connected, thank you very much. But it doesn't really sting until she tells her husband that he actually owes lots of people for his success.

Time for a news report! The anchor shows explosions at a D'Anconia mine (which means someone knew enough to get there with a camera before things went kaboom) and mentions that the stock has plummeted and the two-century-old company is not expected to recover. The newsreader also says there were no casualties from the devastating blasts, which--coupled with the rather dinky explosions matted in to the stock footage of a mine--makes me think that either the damage isn't as bad as people are saying or the F/X guys did the best they could with insufficient time and resources. And D'Anconia appears to be another person who benefits from eight or ten generations of wealth but has convinced himself he earned every penny on his own merits. If your six-times-removed great-grandfather was a billionaire and you're also a billionaire, it just means your family had so much money it doesn't matter how much of a fuckup you are. Or, to put it another way, I don't think what America needs is ethical and moral lessons from Paris Hilton. But Atlas Shrugged sure as hell does.

Meanwhile, at Rearden Steel, a higher-up from the SSI is telling Hank Rearden that he can either sell his awesome steel to the government or face a ten year prison sentence for violating the Fair Share Act (while openly saying that the Act was passed specifically to force awesome business tycoons to do what the government wants). He's also installing his flunky Mr. Small, who Rearden had already thrown out of his office, as an overseer of the Rearden facility, because OSHA is just another way to force the natural Ubermenschen to bow to the will of the collective. Rearden tells the SSI man that he isn't worried about keeping his job so he doesn't have to obey any restrictive government rules. There's another news report (with "NEWS" but no channel logo in the lower left corner of the screen) saying that Rearden and Danagger are looking at ten years behind bars, because rich people get pushed around by the government all the time.

Dagny busts into Danagger's private office after being kept waiting for hours; when she gets there he's just closing a door as if seeing a mysterious person who has shown up in the previous movie out. He's taking the indictment and potential ten year prison sentence pretty well, all things considered, and Dagny notices two cigarette butts in his office ashtray rather than the expected one (a neat clue, handled rather deftly--especially for a movie that has been subtlety's antimatter counterpart). She asks if Danagger's quitting (without seeming to put two and two together that geniuses of art and industry and vanishing all over the place) and he gets a monologue about how his coal is part of a triangle of trade where value is traded for value and everyone benefits, just as it has throughout history. Danagger says the system is set up to deny him his birthright as a man of industry and that he's "fought for every chunk of coal I've ever pulled up from the ground", as if he is the living avatar of his company rather than a guy in a suit who pays other people to get black lung and make him rich. He rants about how the government won't let him pick who to sell to, as if there's a principle at stake other than "I can make more money doing things some other way". He tells Dagny to take as much coal as she wants because it's not important--after going on about how important his coal mining business and the ability to sell coal was for a solid minute--and leaves his office. Danagger's name is added to the rolls of missing industrial geniuses.

Over at Rearden Steel, Francisco D'Anconia has dropped by to decry the state of affairs and points out that without coal and copper, it's going to be increasingly hard for the businesses of America to accomplish anything. He also uses "looters" and "moochers" again, which makes me wish that if Rand was going to write an 1100 page novel, she'd think of more than two terms for people she didn't like. D'Anconia tries to sell Rearden on blowing up his steel mills and going on strike like the other tycoons and captains of industry, and right after he refers to Atlas shrugging there's an explosion on the shop floor. There's a break in one of the furnaces and glowing molten metal is pouring out. Rearden personally hauls an unconscious employee out of the path of the metal and barks orders to the foreman about how to fix the problem while a bunch of guys shovel sand around the pool of white-hot liquid metal, then pushes D'Anconia out of the path of a collapsing roof beam while Leonard Small looks on impotently, unable to do anything.

At the Utah Institute of Technology, garbage bags fill the streets (apparently the sole genius billionaire of trash collection has gone on strike as well, which means nobody is running trucks and hauling away refuse). Quentin Daniels has something to share about the Awesome Motor Thingy and Dagny is there to see what it is. Daniels has gotten it to turn into a cheap replica of the arc reactor from Iron Man and also turn magnetic and make the lights in the room (but not the computers two feet away from the motor) flicker. If I were standing near that thing I'd want a lead apron, but apparently Daniels and Taggart don't consider the possibilities of whatever it's doing to their chromosomes while enjoying the tawdry special effects. Making the motor do anything else is beyond Daniels' abilities so he recommends Dagny find its inventor and ask him politely how the heck to make his Oxygen Destroyer looking thing work.

Some time later, Hank Rearden is starring in a show trial by the Unification Council; he's charged with violating the Fair Share Act. Which means it's time for another tedious speech about just how awesome Hank Rearden is and how he won't go along with the tyranny of the one-world government who wants his stuff. The audience applauds after a few lines from Hank; I think he's supposed to have won them over by the sheer force of his correctness (and by living in a world that reflects Ayn Rand's views rather than the one my readers live in). He gets a standing ovation later on in his rant, although only about a third of the audience gets up--either the extras weren't directed well or the camera setup was off. The judges are too scared of Rearden's awesomeness to let him keep talking and they're terrified of making him a martyr to the cause of not sharing, so they pronounce him guilty and sentence him to ten years in prison and then immediately suspend the sentence. This time the entire audience gets their cue to stand up and clap.

During a late-night stroll, Hank and Dagny talk about the Awesome Motor and how it's something the shadowy forces of collectivization and public benefit won't be able to stop. The tycoons are people who make things work, see, and the governments of the world hate and fear them because they're so effective. So they have to make sure that free energy (which would disrupt every aspect of the industrial society) is a thing they can use, although I guess they're only going to use it for their own benefit, or something. Because every time any of the protagonists talk about the common people in this film or the first one in the trilogy, they sound like they're talking about something they can't wait to scrape off their boots.

The audience is then treated to the Taggart Transcontinental Board of Directors walking down a hallway in slow motion like the Reservoir Dogs (though the camera operator isn't quite up to the task of keeping them all in frame at the same time). It turns out that the railroad company is losing money because there aren't enough clients paying to haul freight. James Taggart says they've got to raise their rates and one of Wesley Mouch's underlings says that's impossible, because the greater good of the common people demands that the prices stay fixed. As if that wasn't bad enough, the politician and some other guy on the board suggest that Taggart TC reach out to unions and pay their workers more money, because that means they'll vote Mouch in the future. The board decides to terminate service on the John Galt line and use the rails from there to shore up rail lines that don't go from a flaming oil rig to nowhere. Dagny makes a grandstanding speech about how she won't be the one who murders the line (which cannot ship anything anywhere since Ellis Wyatt decided to have an early Fourth of July with his oil rigs) and blames government policies for ruining her railroad. She walks out and the board decides to go ahead with Operation Maybe We Could Ship Some Things That Are Not On Fire. The crews start to work dismantling the matte painting of the Galt line forthwith.

At a shmancy restaurant, James Taggart and Lillian Rearden meet for dinner and problem drinking. Taggart wants Lillian to get her husband to shut up in public and not be so "vocally anti-social" and reveals that the forces of Big Government have given him the job of making Hank Rearden toe the party line. Upon being promised enough clout that she won't have to depend on Hank for her social position any more, Lillian eagerly joins the conspiracy to destroy Hank. There's a transition shot of a Tea Party rally in support of Rearden's performance at his show trial, and then a cut to Wesley Mouch in his office talking about how capitalism doesn't work and Rearden needs to be brought to heel to demonstrate that. He says that sure, they're going to violate the hell out of the Constitution, but some times you have to break a few eggs to make that societal omelette.

Suddenly Mouch and his hangers-on get a Skype call from the President, played by Ray Wise! I'm not sure if he's supposed to look like any particular Democratic president (or presidential contender), or if he's just the sort of generic older white guy office-holder you get in movies. He says they're going to implement Directive 10-289 immediately, for the public good. Thankfully the movie then explains just what the hell Directive 10-289 is, so that we know just how much shit has hit the fan.

So what the hell is this directive? It's a several-point plan meant to save the deteriorating American economy by making it impossible for anyone to quit their job by Presidential fiat; also, business owners are no longer allowed to retire or sell their companies. The patent office is suspended and nationalized, with the U.S. government taking over the patent rights to all industrial processes and the invention of anything new is officially forbidden. All companies will be required to make just as much stuff as they did in the previous year and all citizens will be required to spend as much on consumer goods and services as they did in the previous year--also, everyone's wages will be frozen nationwide. (The movie omits the directives that guarantee employment for every American so they can buy things; possibly because in the country living through the post-2008 economic collapse that might have sounded like a pretty okay idea.)

Oh, and Wesley Mouch is put in charge of the Unification Board, who will be enforcing the Directive. There's a montage of different groups of people watching the Presidential broadcast (my favorite are the factory workers watching it on the shop floor TV, as you undoubtedly would see in real life) that wraps up with Dagny stomping off after James lets it slip that he knew this was coming. Then there's a montage of protesters, homeless people, cop cars and a dude whittling a wooden gravestone for America.

Over at Rearden Steel, a government functionary has shown up to politely request Hank Rearden sign over the rights to Rearden metal. Once he does that, the manufacturing process will be given to all steelworks in the country and the name changed to "miracle metal", apparently just to hurt Hank's feelings. Hank refuses to sign, of course, so the bureaucrat brings out the blackmail folder--photos of Hank and Dagny on a date. He unwittingly points out the double standard in American life where Hank's reputation will not suffer while Dagny's will for the same transgression (I had no idea Ayn Rand was such a progressive!). Hank caves instantly and signs over the Rearden processes. Dagny flips out when she sees a convenient news report and goes to yell at her brother and then quit (which is, of course, also against the Directive). Because when the going gets tough, the tough bail out.

Speaking of bailing out on difficult situations, after a call from Dagny Hank decides that he absolutely needs a divorce from Lillian. So that's gonna happen too. At the office, James Taggart looks at the big control board and realizes that he's not up to the task of running the railroad, and only now that it's too late does he realize how awesome Dagny was. He installs the first person he sees as the new COO and (in the only line of dialogue that displays any measure of wit) tells the poor sap that he doesn't get a raise because of Directive 10-289.

The scene shifts for a matter of seconds as Dagny throws furniture out of a cabin in the woods of New York, piling it on the lawn. Then it's time to hang out with Quentin Daniels again as he does math and tries to figure out the static electricity motor some more. And the Westbound 22 is late as all getout on the Colorado line! OH NOES! Kip Chalmers, one of the people from the earlier boardroom scene, says he'll make sure to nationalize Taggart Transcontinental if he's late for a campaign stop and his effete, heavily drinking British companion says that's the only way to make the trains run on time, as proven by past train nationalizers in Days of Yore. And yeah, that means the movie's finally gotten around to calling its political targets Nazis. It's actually kind of reassuring; a right-wing screed without Hitler Tourette's is like a day without sunshine or a conspiracy theory without the Vatican. The mediocre CGI train screeches to a halt in a shower of sparks and the engineer sasses Kip about how easy or difficult it is to fix something like that. Which means that Chalmers calls up James Taggart and demands a quick ride to his campaign stop in California or all hell will break loose. Taggart calls the recently promoted operations chief and tells him to use an old coal-burning engine to tow the disabled train through Taggart Tunnel and get Chalmers where he wants to go (over the new guy's protests, saying it's not safe to use a coal-burning engine in an eight-mile-long tunnel). Taggart threatens the new guy's job, too, which seems to me like something that wouldn't be possible in the post-Directive 10-289 world, but probably we shouldn't think too much about it.

The train continues onward, with Kip Chalmers patting himself on the back for having enough clout with Taggart to get the train moving again and whoever the hell the British guy is makes a literal toast to political pull. But there's a freight train approaching on the same track, and at the same time smoke from the coal-burning engine suffuses the passenger compartments; the woman Kip was bragging to about his mad political skillz panics and pushes the emergency brake and the switch that's meant to shunt the freight train to another track doesn't work (I guess because looters and moochers installed it). Which means we get another train wreck in the second movie, and the tunnel appears to collapse from the explosion (maybe--there's some falling rocks and soil but it's a dimly lit and brief shot).

Back at Dagny's cabin, Francisco D'Anconia shows up to congratulate Dagny on packing up and riding out instead of continuing to keep Taggart Transcontinental working out of a sense of obligation, and to the benefit of the government looters who wanted her to use her unique genius to inadvertently keep the country functioning a little bit longer. He also tells Dagny that he destroyed his own mines in order to walk away from a system he hates. Seconds after that confession, Eddie Willers calls Dagny up to tell her about the train wreck and the complete destruction of the tunnel. She decides that the family business is too important to leave in her dipshit brother's hands and pledges to go back to Taggart HQ to start fixing things. Francisco tells her not to.

Back at the control room at Taggart headquarters, the entire rail map is red and everyone Dagny names as people she wants on her crisis team are missing in action. She looks at old route maps and sketches out a workaround to keep things moving, even at a reduced pace and capacity. Wesley Mouch calls in on their command screen, which is a thing I guess he can do, and Dagny tells him it was government interference that caused the train wreck because safety for the public is the overriding concern of all corporations. Mouch offers a special exemption to the Directive 10-289 rules if Dagny fixes things, and she tells him to get bent (I am paraphrasing). He smiles and thanks her for her service, then hangs up. Dagny leaves for Colorado via train because she wants people to trust her company.

Back in Utah, Quentin Daniels gets the arc reactor to work (I think by charging it up by hooking it to power lines, but this scene is indistinctly blocked so I don't really know--it could be that when he got it to work it started making the power transformers outside throw sparks). The motor stays on and an offscreen voice asks him if he's ready and then the screen cuts to black.

The train that Dagny was riding on has stopped, and the Taggart repair dude who shows up to fix it recognizes her on sight because she's a business legend who needs to be praised ceaselessly. He's wearing a beat up old 20th Century Motors cap and implies that he used to have a great job working for them until the company went under. He asks "Who is John Galt?" when Dagny queries about why the company went under and then says he probably started the phrase himself when the plant went under. Because, you see, John Galt worked with him at the auto plant in the cactus-dotted deserts of Starnesville, Wisconsin. When Old Man Starnes died his offspring took over the company and organized it along Communist principles (as second-generation business tycoons would naturally do). John Galt quit in disgust, the auto company fell apart and one of the line workers eventually showed up to provide vital third-act exposition in this movie. The last tidbit that the track worker supplies is a vow from John Galt to stop the motor of the world. Which makes him sound a bit more like Dr. Doom than a hero of the oppressed business-owning class, honestly.

Dagny arrives at some conclusion or other after hearing the story of the real John Galt and takes the Taggart company truck from the track worker. While gassing it up (and the shot of the price skyrocketing on the gas pump is another very welcome sign of wit from the filmmakers) she calls Quentin Daniels to tell him she knows who created the magic engine he's been futzing around with. He says he was just about to call her to resign, and hangs up the laptop. Dagny drives off to buy a plane and try get to Utah and track him down, coincidentally enough seeing him run to a futuristic VTOL plane at the dinky airport she wants to land at. Pursuing him brings us to the very beginning of the movie again (though the F/X shots of her plane in flight are executed poorly enough that they'd be noticeably bad on an episode of "M.A.N.T.I.S."). She flies through some kind of hologram of a mountain or force field or something that disrupts the jet's controls and manages not to die as she sets the plane down in a field. She's concussed and trying to crawl from the wreckage when someone backlit by the sun (obscuring his face) shows up to assist her, and announces himself as John Galt. She takes his hand just in time for part II of the story to end.

Well, if the IMDB hadn't told me that this movie cost about one and a half times as much as the first one I would never have guessed it. Everything about the film oozes Cormanian cheapness, from the cut-rate cast made up of people who weren't in the first movie to the tiny crowds of protesters and supporters in the big payoff scenes to the visible green-screen lines around people standing next to a train or in the flying scenes at the beginning / end. And the repeated scenes of grandstanding billionaires whining that people don't love them enough are much more grating in this film than in the first one. John Galt's vow to destroy progress is the kind of thing a Bond villain would threaten to do rather than a heroic act. Other than the admittedly fun "spot the character actor" game that's easy to play during this film and the previous one, there's not a lot to recommend for a casual viewer. And the target audience didn't go for it in any great numbers either; Box Office Mojo reports its take at three and a third million dollars against a production budget of ten million; they spent more on this film and made less than the first one.

I can honestly applaud the drive and talent that go into making a dream project; I remember going to see the Dungeons and Dragons movie on its opening weekend because the director was someone who spent eleven years trying to get that film made (I was quite disappointed by that one as well, as was anyone else who spent money to see it).

John Aglialoro, the executive producer of the Atlas Shrugged films, spent nearly two decades working to get the story on movie screens, including a version in 2007 that reportedly would have featured Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart (Lions Gate passed on it and the project fell apart). When the time on his option was running out he decided to finance and produce the movie himself rather than wait for Hollywood to work with him. He got three movies put together in four years, and also got them in theaters. He also was dedicated to the project enough to put twenty million dollars of his own money into the films, a mark of absurd dedication. And he got about a third of that money back, which is a real shame because he had to have sweated blood for half a decade to produce these films, not counting the twelve years where he attempted to put deals together but nothing jelled.

But if he'd made more interesting movies they would have at least recouped their costs. Michael Moore made a film just as politically active and relevant in 2004 with Fahrenheit 9/11, and that one brought home $191 million worth of bacon in theaters on a six million dollar production budget. The difference is that Moore knows a great deal about the presentation of a cinematic image and he's a filmmaker with a political axe to grind. Aglialoro has a political axe to grind first and made the movie to service that. There's a massive, massive difference there and one that unfortunately people can detect. If the invisible hand of the free market is the arbiter of artistic success, it gave Aglialoro and his movies the finger.


  1. I'm not sure if you're paraphrasing or not about the "every person who could save the country is gone" stuff, but it reminds me of Wayne LaPierre's doltishly binary assertions that there are just "good guys with guns" and "bad guys with guns".

  2. If I remember right that's an exact line of dialogue. There's a lot of overlap among cartoonishly simplistic right wing talking points; Rand herself stated the central principle of Objectivism as "A is A"; things are only what they are and cannot be anything else, ever. And a lot of Rand's fan club in 2015 are also on the NRA mailing list, watching Fox News, etc. Binaries are useful for people like that, because it means there's an Us and a Them, and they know which side they're on.

  3. I was all set to cleverly compare these protagonists to Bond villains, and you beat me to it.

  4. Such are the rewards of an honors degree in film studies. I make the cheap jokes first.