by Adam Thas
I have never seen anything like the Atlas Shrugged trilogy. At its core, it's an intriguing look as to what Ayn Rand’s influence has been able to create decades after her death. But let’s get it out of the way: these movies aren’t good. I will go as far as to say that the third installment, Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt, may be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. If you’re about to scroll through to the comments sectional and tell me what an asshole I am, I would first like you to take a pause and pull a page out of Ayn Rand’s book to look at things...objectively (see what I did there!). Yes, it’s a political movie and I have to talk about the politics of it, but I think the problem the series has is its overreliance on its politics to sell bad movies.
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is directed by Paul Johansson (of One Tree Hill fame) as his first theatrical movie. While Johansson is in charge, I don’t think all of the shortcomings of this movie are his fault, because while the first installment is not good, I do like some things about it. Out of the three movies, Part 1 is the only one that has a “style” to it. The original book was written in 1957 but based in 2016 and has a very interesting aesthetic to it, where it’s trying to create a mood and use decor that Rand would have seen in 1957. That doesn’t mean Johansson is without fault, though, because I think he’s so caught up being true to the source material that he makes sloppy decisions. At one point, two of the main characters go to Wisconsin and are driving through a desert. It’s not that hard to change “Wisconsin” to “Arizona” unless you’re worried about offending the Atlas Shrugged fans of the world.
Most jarring about the series, though, is that each one of the movies has a completely different cast. There is almost not a single actor or actress that is in one movie that is in one of the others. It forces each movie to go out of it’s way to reintroduce characters (which by the third is comical, but we aren’t there yet). Out of the three, though, the first by far has the best cast and the best version of most of the characters. In preproduction, several women had been attached to the role of the main protagonist, Dagny Taggert, including Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie, but kudos to Johansson for finding Taylor Schilling before she was a star. She’s far and away the best to play the role out of the three movies.
Out of everything to do with the series, by far the most fascinating is the juxtaposition between the first and second movies. I don’t think two movies in the history of cinema that belong to the same series have ever been more different. Besides the cast completely changing, there is a shift in the mood, style, and scope of the entire trilogy. While I was a fan of the style of the first movie, it never made any sense. The first movie opens saying it’s 2016, yet most characters don’t use cell phones, the technology is very dated and feels like it takes place in the past rather than in the future. The producers obviously recognized that and instantly modernize the sequel. Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 is brighter, uses modern images and technologies, and feels like a movie that takes place in the “near future” as it says at the beginning. The cast is different, but in my opinion, weaker. Samantha Mathis is my least favorite of the Dagny Taggerts and feels very different in the role opposed to Taylor Schilling. Far and away the biggest change from the first movie to the second is that it doesn’t just double down on the politics, it downright shoves it in your face.
I get it. I get why the producers would want to sell the movie to the base that would see the movie. It saves on advertising by targeting a specific audience. Unfortunately, it destroys a movie that could be argued is better in places than the first. While I liked the Part 1 more, I can recognize that as a movie they fixed some of the problems in the second installment. There is more action this time, it’s not as slow, and has a vision that I think works better for the material. It’s tied down, though, by being so blatantly political that it appeals to no one but people who agree with it. Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 opened on over 1000 screens and, by its third week, was down to just 150. It grossed just over $3 million and appeared to completely kill the franchise and trilogy.
Most of Part 3 is shots of two characters talking and has little to no drama at all. The cast is fine for what they’re asked to do, but I have to be honest, after two movies waiting to meet John Galt, I was a bit disappointed in the casting. Kristoffer Polaha is competent, but doesn’t really fit the part I had imagined in the previous two movies. It once again stars Sean Hannity (the only person to show up in two movies), but adds in Glenn Beck and Ron Paul, who play themselves. Besides that, there's pretty much nothing to like in the last movie even if you agree with the politics or are a fan of its political stars. I don’t know how much the average person donated on Kickstarter to get this movie made, but if I donated even a dollar, I’d be pissed seeing the final result.
The final chapter of Atlas Shrugged made just under a million dollars worldwide, making the total spent on the entire trilogy over $30 million and the total return under $9 million. I hope the irony is not lost that a series of movies that touts businessmen and their ability to make money ends up being a pretty piss poor example of it. The producers and directors of the movies have blamed the “Left-wing Liberal Media” on the series failures. It’s an excuse. These movie are bad. Any person who says these movies are good can’t divorce themselves from the source material.
In all the hours and days of my life spent watching movies, I have never seen anything like the Atlas Shrugged trilogy. These three movies are unique in that I don’t think we will ever see anything like them again. It’s been said that government has a habit of throwing money at situations but never fixing the problems. I guess you can also throw a lot of money at an idea and never make a good movie.