DVD Review: "Atlas Shrugged: Part II"

Atlas Shrugged: Part IIBefore watching Atlas Shrugged Part II, I decided to watch the first film, and I watched them back to back. One thing to be noted is that the two films, although revolving around the same characters, have completely different casts, which felt very disjointed. The story is one overall all arch, and while they are two separate films, if you don't watch the first you miss a large chunk of the story. I believe that you could follow Part II without having seen its predecessor and still understand it, but I don't think it would have the same impact. Everything that happens in Part II is fueled by Part I:

Who is John Galt? That's the mystery that's woven throughout the films as the best and the brightest start disappearing, and is also used as a saying when one doesn't know an answer to something they are asked.

The main characters of the films are the protagonist Dagny Taggart, played by Samantha Mathis (Taylor Schilling in Part I) and her love interest Henry "Hank" Reardon, played by Jason Beghe (Grant Bowler in Part I). While there is a love story, it takes a backseat to all of the problems that they and the country are facing. The story starts in a dystopian United States (Part I starts in 2016, Part II does not specify) during an economic depression. Prices have skyrocketed and with the cost of fuel and oil rising, the predominant form of travel has become rail transportation, but even the railways are in need of repair.

Atlas Shrugged: Part IIDagny is the Vice President in Charge of Operations at Taggart Transcontinental, one of the huge railroad companies making a profit in the time. The president of the company is her brother, James (Part I: James Marsden/Part II: Patrick Fabian), who is a lousy leader. Dagny goes against her brother's wishes and orders the old track to be replaced by a new metal, Reardon Metal, which the inventor claims is lighter and stronger than steel.

Others become outraged as Reardon refuses to share instructions for the production of his new metal, and is betrayed by Lobbyist Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner/Paul McCrane), who spearheads the government's efforts to control all commerce. They claim it is all for the "greater good."

Refusing to give up, Taggart and Reardon eventually rebuild and complete the railway and the train goes faster than any in history.

After celebrating Dagny and Reardon begin looking for the inventor of a prototype of a motor that would run with static electricity and again revolutionize the world, but eventually reach a dead end.

Atlas Shrugged Part II picks up where the other left off. This film focuses more on the themes of government control and the rights of the individual.

Having hit the end of the trail of the creator of the motor prototype, Dagny hires Quentin Daniels (Diedrich Bader), the only scientist seemingly left who might be able to help. He thinks that the motor was a working prototype and spends the majority of the film trying to understand and fix the motor.

Meanwhile the "fair share" law is passed that requires businesses to sell to all buyers, trying to force Reardon to give up his exclusivity of the metal. He refuses and after he sells more than what is considered fair to his client, and none to the government, he is sent to trial.

At the trial, Reardon defends his right to make profit and keep what is his and says that he will not recognize the new laws and that if they want the property they will have to seize it, which would amount to theft. Realizing an uprising of the jury is starting, and after all the protesting that has been going on, the judge knows that they will only make Reardon a martyr, and he is sentenced to ten years in prison, but the term is suspended because of all the benefits he has brought with his metal.

With no punishment, this of course does not stop him from disobeying the new laws, and eventually another is put into place. The government announces Directive 10-289, which freezes all employment and production. The kicker – the law requires all patents to be gifted to the government so that all companies can create equal goods, and there will be no new inventions or innovations.

Neither Taggart nor Reardon are ready to give up, but how far are they willing to take it? And will they ever find out the truth about John Galt?

Even after completing both films, though some questions will be answered, you still will be left asking "Who is John Galt?"

Overall I enjoyed both films and will definitely be watching part three when it comes out. That being said, there were some issues I had with Part II.

While the actors, Mathis and Beghe, who played Dagny and Hank, did a more than adequate job carrying the movie in the absence of the original cast, I did not find them to have the same chemistry as the original cast. While watching the first film I had no doubt of the impending love story between the two main characters; they felt like different people in Part II. Had I not seen the first film, I probably wouldn't have bought it at all, as they are stiff around one another for the most part. The meat of the film, however, is not about their relationship, and this could be why some of the more intimate scenes, which were much more believable, were cut. I think the film would have benefited from some of them.

That being said, the two are formidable and I did believe in them when they stood their ground. Hank is someone you root for in the film, even though if you think about it, he is the head of a corporation, pretty much a monopoly, which you usually wouldn't root for. But in this film, greed isn't about wanting or spending money you earned, it's about taking or expecting money from the ones who did the work. Reardon's speech at the trial really sends the point home. The greater good shouldn't make victims by stealing from those who's creativity is who keeps things going. The individual has rights to keep what's theirs. The film also shows you how the economy and society could tank even worse if everything was made to be equal. After all, why would you use your skills and do more work than others, only to be paid the same? Many would stop creating if they knew there was no profit to be had. It's nice to believe that we could live in a utilitarian world, but it could never happen.

Dagny was also unstoppable in her drive to succeed; even if she would have to do it on her own in the end, she refuses to give up, even as those around her disappear.

Another character I found interesting in the story was Francisco d'Anconia (Jsu Garcia/Esai Morales - though in this case, I preferred the seond actor, Morales). He has money but decides to use it to exact revenge on the greedy, getting them to invest in his companies only to destroy them. He also has a lot of insight into the situations and how Reardon is being used by his peers.

I also enjoyed the science fiction bits of the films – the thought of abandoned untapped technology. The visual effects worked well, but weren't so over the top to the point of unbelievability.

The other part I found compelling about the story was the mystery – who is John Galt? Is he getting people to leave without even a good bye, or is he just an idea?

The other theme that was prevalent throughout the story was also of course the tagline, "Everything has a breaking point." It's really about how far these characters are willing to go in their fight.

Scriptwise, the story can be confusing, and you would be better served in my opinion watching the first film, and also recognizing ahead of time that the two are very different in certain ways. I cannot compare the films to the book by Ayn Rand as I have not read it. Some people may not like this kind of film; it is one that you need to stay fully engaged in to get what's going on. There is action and some science fiction moments as well, but it is a slow start, but if you can stick in there, it's worth the journey. Just remember, it's a long one. Both films end on cliffhangers, with Part III not due out until next summer.

Bonus Features:

Behind the Scenes of Atlas Shrugged II
The behind the scenes special is all about the process from filming through special effects in post, to the final product. It shows a scene at the Reardon Steel Factory where molten metal is spilling out and everyone is trying to get out of the way. The beginning is the director talking to others about filming a plate where post will add a fireball. Then the stunt doubles film their parts, including some practicing. Next there is a bit about some of the practical fire effects that are really there rather than digitally added that will be enhanced later. Next the principle actors film the scene.

After, the VFX supervisor of the film is looking at the shots of the movie, including the empty plates that they will be adding molten metal and other effects to.

Finally the final edited version of the scene is shown.

I did enjoy this. It's nice to see a feature about the process as opposed to a narrated Q&A like a lot of movies have. However, if you aren't interested in the actual filming process as I am, you might be bored.

Sean Hannity Extended Segment
This is simply an extended version of a news segment where they are arguing over whether Reardon is a hero and innovator or a monopolist.

This scene is really just more about the debate of the individual versus the greater good. It would not have added anything to the film.

Deleted Scenes
There are quite a few deleted scenes, some of them would have served the film better in my opinion to be left in, while others would have made no impact or possibly a negative one.

The scenes that I would have liked to have seen in the film were some of those between Dagny and Hank, such as one where he gives her a necklace that he wants her to wear just for him, and another where he tells his wife (Kim Rhodes) he will not stop seeing Dagny and to back off. These scenes add a bit more depth to the characters and in my opinion made their relationship more believable.

Another scene I enjoyed was Eddie (Richard T. Jones) refusing to tell James Taggart where his sister went. He's one of the few left who won't roll over and do what is asked.

Another is a scene where the one man who was "doing his job" when he is sent to spy on Reardon eventually sees what the government is doing is wrong and tells him that he will risk his life to help him if he needs it. I had a feeling from the beginning that the man would stand up for what he really believed, but the scene was not included.

Most of the rest of the deleted scenes are of no consequence, though there were a few scenes with d'Anconia that I was glad they left out. They make him seem more heartless.

Sneak Peeks
There are trailers of Broken City and Hitchcock included on the disc.

I reviewed the Blu-ray edition of the film. It came in a regular blue clamshell case with one disc and an insert, which on the back has some QR codes to scan to get access to the official sites and online store. It does not have tons of special features, nor commentary, but the ones it did have were enjoyable.

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