Nearly a year after watching Atlas Shrugged part 1 I finally got around to watching part 2 - "The Strike". I knew going into it that the cast would change completely, so was expecting a certain amount of dissonance. In the even it wasn't noticeable, perhaps because it had been so long since I saw part 1. So how did part 2 stack up?
The cast changes from part 1 were a mixed bag:
- Paul McCrane as Wesley Mouch: an improvement, a much better weasel.
- Samantha Mathis made a better Dagney, older and more world-weary. Compared to Mathis, the deficiencies of the youth of Taylor Schilling in the role were more obvious, despite Schilling being very easy on the eye.
- Esai Morales: very smooth as Francisco d'Anconia. He was used to narrate Randian opinions in a couple of scenes but did so without being too hammy.
- The nerd in me applauded Robert Picardo as Dr. Robert Stadler, the head of the SSI.
- The main disappointment was Jason Beghe as Hank Rearden: Grant Bowler was far better in part 1, the Baghe character was more smirking and annoying.
- I was in two minds about Patrick Fabian as James Taggart; he was too young in my mind for the role, but he did get the playboy attitude right.
Where I thought the film succeeded, more so than part 1, was in making the subtle nods to popular culture today so that it could be seen as a warning of an (unlikely) very near future. This was exemplified by including a Fox News deconstruction of the Fair Share Law, with Sean Hannity facing off against Juan Willians and Bob Beckel. I nearly laughed my socks off. It was no doubt a good marketing gag - after all, I'd imagine Fox viewers are over-represented in the likely film audience. Indeed, Bob's brother Graham played Ellis Wyatt in part 1 which may have persuaded Bob to come on board for part 2. Also, plaudits are due to whoever came up with the "We are the 99.98%" protest signs waved at Dagney - genius. The use of protestors and their signs in a couple of the scenes to indicate changing public attitudes was clever.
The film itself felt a little rushed, which is not surprising considering how much they had to cram in to 111 minutes, less a couple of minutes of the flight sequence duplicated at the start and end. I will be fascinated to see what they do in part 3 about the 80+ page radio monologue - maybe they'll stick it on a separate DVD... It was not quite stand-alone as a film, but made a stab at it. You needed some context from part 1 or from the book in order to make more sense of the situation and the relationship between Mouch, the Taggarts and the rest of the industrialists, but the film makers did do a creditable job in minimising this. Where it fell down was in explaining Hank Rearden's attitude - why he was refusing to roll over to the government, and why he then changed his mind so quickly when his affair with Dagney was threatened to be exposed. The film makers could have done a better job of repeating his obsession with his firm, but I suppose they were relying on part 1 to have done that.
I can recommend Atlas Shrugged part 2, on balance. You don't need to read the book for it to make sense, as long as you've seen part 1. It was engaging and cleverly pitched. I'm not sure what Rand would have made of it, but I think the tie-ins to modern society would have amused her.