Counting me, there were about twenty people at the Seattle debut of Atlas Shrugged Part II at the Regal Meridian theater downtown. That's a pretty good turnout for a 1:30 pm show on a Friday, but still: I found myself wanting to ask everyone in the theater why they were moochers. If you're at a movie theater during the day on a Friday, you're clearly not a captain of industry. You're either a dirty socialist movie reviewer, or you're unemployed. Or on retirement: Most of the people in the theater were older, in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Most of us were men sitting alone. One man at the front of the theater shouted "LEFTIST COMMIES" at the screen when the trailer for a Matt Damon environmental drama called Promised Land, hilariously, played before the movie.
I went to the first Atlas Shrugged movie a year and a half ago, and it was an embarrassing cinematic experience. The sets were cheesy, the acting was awful, and the script was totally hambone. Because the first Atlas Shrugged movie did so poorly at the box office, the sequel bears almost no relation to the earlier film. It has a different director, a totally different cast, and, presumably, a different crew working behind the scenes. And the impossible happened as I watched Part II: I was nostalgic for part 1. As awful as the first Atlas Shrugged movie was—and make no mistake, it was incredibly boring—it had a kind of ratty soap operatic charm to it. It at least felt, with its romantic entanglements and fancy parties, like an off-brand episode of Dynasty.
This movie is completely joyless. And the chintz levels go through the roof: The special effects are, bar none, the worst I've ever seen on a movie screen, with see-through fire effects layered over still shots and bad computer models of derailed train cars rubbing against each other with all the heft and weight of a bouquet of balloons at a kid's birthday party. The set design is even cheaper than the first outing, too. Most notably, a seatback television screen in a limousine is played by a cheap Android tablet glued sideways to the back of a car seat. The actor hits the tablet's back button to turn the "volume" up.
Before, the acting was at least passionate, in a sort of hilarious way. Now it's grim, and the new actors don't seem to understand what they're saying half the time. The problem is that the middle part of the book that this film is adapting—yes, this is the second part of a proposed trilogy—is just about everything getting worse.
All of America's greatest minds are disappearing while Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis), a railroad tycoon, tries to hold the nation together singlehandedly. Trash covers the city streets (presumably because the greatest garbage men in the nation have disappeared, too) and Occupy protests demand the fair share that the "99.98%" deserves. Taggart runs around trying to fight the evil government with her allies, and all her allies disappear, one by one. Finally, in the end, she finds out where everyone has gone. Something has finally happened! Then the credits start.
But we've already seen just about everything in Atlas Shrugged, Part II in the first Atlas Shrugged. Both movies feature train wrecks, the destruction of important American industries, the passage of a tyrannical piece of legislation by evil straw men government agents, and Dagny running around looking stressed the whole time. The only (unintentional) comedy comes in the dialogue that the "government creeps" have to say. One government panel nods as the president's "recovery czar" announces, "I think everyone agrees that capitalism doesn't work." It's a totally partisan movie, in a way that the first movie wasn't. The first Atlas Shrugged hewed closer to the Rand novel, but Part II veered off into contemporary Republican talking points on multiple occasions, and those detours into modernity—including an awkward appearance by Sean Hannity and several Fox News commentators which got one of the only rounds of applause in my theater—made the film feel even less substantial and less meaningful than the first. Which is, in its own way, an achievement.
There was no standing ovation at the end of Part II. And how could there be? Even the most ardent fan has to admit that it's a boring, aimless movie. But I bet the people in the theater will recommend the movie to friends and promote it online. They're not doing this because it's a good movie, or because it's especially well-made. They're contributing their time and effort and money to a pursuit that is not strong enough to support itself financially, which is to say that they're supporting this movie out of charity. Which is exactly the opposite of Objectivism. Even Ayn Rand would admit that this thing is a piece of shit, and she'd be disgusted at anyone who tried to convince her otherwise.