Early last year, Shout Bits predicted that the Atlas Shrugged movie would change the world. Well, no, it did not. The movie tanked in the theaters, and not for lack of good reason. Not only was it burdened by media writers who lean left, it was not a very good production anyway. The writing and acting were stilted, and the production values were like a soap opera. Fortunately Atlas II, which sill advocates for Ayn Rand’s ideas, is on its own terms a triumph.
One would not know that Atlas II is a quantum improvement over part I by reading the reviews. The movie review site Rotten Tomatoes rates Atlas II at 0% (i.e. everybody hated it). Tellingly, nearly every review takes a snide swipe at Rand’s philosophy. On the other hand, 81% of actual moviegoers like Atlas II, so if the purpose of critics is to help consumers find movies they will like, the critics are infinitely wrong.
No doubt leftist critics had a hard time setting aside their statist constitutions to consider whether Atlas II is a persuasive argument for something outside their belief systems. However, that is a common prerequisite for most Hollywood movies. Not everyone identifies with superheroes, kung-fu robot Camaros, or hairy footed little people. The review must be framed by the intended audience’s expectations. So, let Shout Bits offer a review from the perspective of an individualist (spoiler – it’s great).
First off, Atlas Shrugged is not a John Gisham novel, seemingly written with movie production in mind. It is an 1100 page tome with entertainment as its secondary objective. Atlas is a philosophical thought experiment shoehorned into a railroad baron plot. Its characters, as in all Rand novels, are unrealistically heroic. Without wearing their underwear over their tights, Rand’s heroes do not readily translate into movies, as movie characters usually have flaws and quirks that endear them to the audience. In short adapting Atlas to the screen is a monumental challenge, yet the critics do not seem to appreciate that compelling interpersonal conflicts are the grist of Margaret Mitchell, not Ayn Rand.
For Atlas II, the producers added some excitement by enlisting what star power they could afford. Sci-fi junkies will get a chuckle from Robert Picardo’s bureaucrat. Libertarian card trick fans will notice a rare speaking cameo by Raymond Joseph Teller (of Penn and Teller). Beyond casting stunts, generally, the acting and dialog is much improved over the first installment. Still, Atlas II is a low budget indie movie, so major star power and special effects are nowhere to be found. Atlas II, by its nature and its budget could never be a thriller.
Where the two Atlas movies remain the same is in their adherence to the novel’s message: individual rights. Capitalism and money are, as the movie explains, tools so that men may peacefully live as equals. Any other system is veiled serfdom. Atlas II argues Rand’s point that individualism and capitalism are moral constructs apart from their public policy benefits.
Despite the thick themes Atlas II is not a documentary or an economic lecture. It fairly cleverly weaves Rand’s arguments into bits of dialog that dissect collectivism. While no more subtle than a James Cameron film beating up capitalism, Atlas II’s dialog on Marxism might just wash past the ears of those unfamiliar with the Left’s code words (e.g. from those who can, unto those who need). Anyone who condemns Atlas II for heavy handed political symbolism must also condemn any number of big-budget Hollywood thrillers where the villains are predictable corporate malefactors. Of course Atlas II is political; that is its purpose. Condemning Atlas II for being what it must be is pointless and does not add any value to a critique.
Critics do not blast artsy films for their lack of action, nor do they object to leftist ideology embedded in Clooney movies. Why, then, are these the basis for Atlas II’s poor reception? For those who already know that Atlas II is a small budget adaptation of a novel about individualist philosophy, Atlas II actually exceeds expectations. Indeed, it is lively, has a good pace to it, and engages the willing mind with Rand’s philosophy. To this biased critic, Atlas II is an unmitigated triumph.
Shout Bits can be found on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ShoutBits