On Second Thought: “Atlas Shrugged: Part III”

If adapting a novel or series of novels is hard to do in general, just imagine how difficult it is to nail the ending. It’s the final film, or in some cases these days, films, and it has to be worth people’s time. They invested so much. The lead up, hopefully, has been pretty big in scope and brought to life numerous necessary and fan favorite moments. However, not all film series can deliver. And if you’re the Atlas Distribution Company film “Atlas Shrugged: Part III”, based on the novel of the same name by Ayn Rand, you’ll probably be regretting coming in last. The bar wasn’t very high, so missing it by miles shouldn’t have been possible. Yet here we are.

Wrap It Up
The final installment should be memorable. I need to feel I got my money’s worth. Sadly, and this could be debated back and forth for days, that wasn’t the case here. There were just too many issues, none of which were really the fault of its low budget nature or mediocre script (although I’ll get to those other issues later) and acting. Maybe it’s just the fault of Rand and her novel. The way she crafted the story didn’t really leave much room for something to truly get excited about. Thus, we have a film that’s a bit on the lackluster side, but again, not so much because it’s a very low budget and badly made film.

The biggest problem is that the story seemed to lack the same level of excitement as the previous entries. Sure that level or idea of what was exciting could be argued over and over, but there should’ve been something that told me that seeing this final film was worth my time, again. There wasn’t. I don’t think there ever will be, and it certainly explains why I’ve never held this entry in high regard. It also explains, why I seemed to dread watching it. Well, certainly when compared to the other two films. It’s the weakest and worst of the three films. Who would’ve thought that possible? Now, I believe the reason for this, is the story per se. It largely takes place in a valley called Galt’s Gulch. That’s where (spoiler alert, sort of) the disappeared found themselves. It’s where Laura Regan’s Dagny found herself after she crashed, and as we’re following her, it makes sense to spend a large chunk of time there. However, while it served its purpose to explain more of Rand’s philosophy (Objectivism: rational self-interest), it provided a pace that I wasn’t expecting. It was slow. Seemingly nothing happened. Sure answers were had as to who and why they were there, but by this point, you already knew. While spending time in this beautiful valley, which was doing a lot better than the rest of the world, wasn’t all that bad, it left me wondering what else is there to say. How could there be more? It’s almost like I forgot or hadn’t read and seen the film before.

But I had done both, and I still felt let down. Things just seemed to go from point to point, but only with the purpose of fulfilling the requirements necessary to tell the story. There was nothing that made these moments have meaning. Yes, there’s the philosophical meaning, but that was always there. I couldn’t find a reason to care. Perhaps, to name one example of something missing, it was lack of mystery. Even when most of the pieces had been assembled in the second part, there was still a need for answers in this part. As it turns out, without mysterious elements, there’s little to keep your attention on. Little reason to focus as much as before. Even when the government and Patrick Fabian’s James Taggart were continuing to interfere, it didn’t carry too much weight. It was expected. You can’t really respond to that which you expect. If it isn’t the missing elements, then I’m not too sure what made this film feel like it shouldn’t have been made.

Dumbing Down The History That’s Repeating
On second thought, I’ve got something that answers the question of what made this film so bad. It may not be tied to the original reason I was thinking of the question, at least in that direct way, but it still explains a lot. The script and story’s unfolding had issues. Lots of issues. It was bad. The story problems are different than above, but stand out just as much, if not slightly more. The script, was just bad. Whoever thought that what was done was a good idea, shouldn’t be allowed to write anything else. Ever.

For starters, the writers (three of them) thought that rehashing events from the previous films, as if we didn’t already know what came before, was smart. That somehow we needed to be dragged by the hand through everything that came before. Sightseeing has never been so painful. If they had wanted to do this, they should’ve just done a “previously on” and then gotten on with the rest of the story. Making this worse, they tied it in with a lot of narration. Because you weren’t feeling like you were being treated like an idiot already. I don’t like narration most of the time, but rarely has it irritated me as much as it did here. I wish I could say the narration issues were because narration simply existed, but I can’t. It’s that narration would begin and end, only to reappear and being again and end. The cycle repeated like that throughout the film. For a film that already had pacing issues, it certainly didn’t need this.

Even more obnoxious and insulting, which I really don’t understand, were the title cards for the various characters you already knew. The new ones got them too, which is still just as annoying. If I recall correctly, there are several mentions of who these people were and what they did. Sadly, obviously, no one discussed it, at least, out loud, and ever came close to thinking this idea might be bad.

One other issue, which I’ve tried to ignore but can’t, and it really could just affect me, is the continuity error that pretty much opens the film. The plane crash that Dagny survives is different. Dramatically so, and thus, it just irks me so much. I’ll never be able to look past it. It’s like the new team, which seems to largely comprise of those from the previous films, couldn’t be bothered to review what happened at the end of the last film. Not that difficult. This too, would explain why we have so much of the dumbing down, and the need to retell us why Kristoffer Polaha’s John Galt set out to stop the motor of the world, among the other things repeated. I always thought that if a sequel were to be made, be it from a book adaptation or an original idea, that continuity would be important. If you’re low budget, I guess not.

Cardboard Cutouts
Since I’m on this negative train of thought, which is almost over, I might as well throw in the characters. Once more the actors are different and the performances are still just meh. Blah? They’re as good as they could’ve ever been. While there are new and old characters, this time around we really get nothing. They serve a purpose and that’s it. Everything else is just on the surface. The story must be told, but all else, is unnecessary. The philosophy must be on display, with many more examples put out there, but anything resembling human emotion is too much.

Even Regan’s Dagny seemed much more lifeless than before. Perhaps that’s just the way Regan interpreted her. Whatever it was, I’ve always viewed this version of the character as somehow inferior. She was certainly less forceful and commanding. She didn’t really have these stellar moments. She had one, but that’s because she was giving instructions to the people who worked for her, as no one else was and she wanted to keep things moving. But after that, nothing stood out. She was much quieter, which even when factoring in the previous portrayer’s work, isn’t that surprising. It’s not like Dagny went from loud person, who yelled a lot or simply raised her voice to this quiet mouse. No. She’s always been that way. For a female character, especially one created before the 1960s, this is something of a marvel. Unheard of. It’s one of the reason’s I do still love this character. That being said, I do blame one reason for this drastically different character. The story. Without the need to take serious charge of everything, or see nothing get done and the business go under, there wasn’t a need for that type of stance. She could actually be a different type of character, all the while maintaining the same principles that have always guided her. So, while it’s somewhat of a loss, at least Regan and the writers could continue to put a lot of focus on Dagny and make her the best type of heroine one could hope for.

Polaha’s John Galt on the hand, while crucial to this part of the film, more so than ever before, couldn’t be more than the stiff piece of cardboard he was meant to be. While he’s always been present, as he helped all those rational thinkers disappear, he too didn’t get much exploration. Sure there was an attempt as he and Regan’s characters slowly fell in love, (complete with a montage), but that never reached levels of believability. I saw what was happening but could care less. That being said, Polaha’s John, like with Dagny and every other character in this film, played their philosophical roles well. It’s the one area I can routinely credit the writers. Relaying these complex ideas time and again, and making sure they were as simplistic as possible. Everyone should be able to understand what’s said, even if they don’t agree. The big area with this film, was John Galt’s message. He breaks into a live broadcast, and lays it all out to the American people. He explains why everyone’s disappeared. In the book it’s something like 70 to 90 pages long. One man speaking. No one else. And believe me, if you try to go all the way through without stopping, it’s tough. Hardest thing I may have read. Anyway. It was condensed to a little over five minutes. In that time, it still somehow felt right. Perfect enough. It even managed to carry with it a certain level of seriousness. Talk about dramatic.

For a film series that should’ve been able to end, somewhat on par with the other films, at least there was always the philosophy lesson to cling to. This would also explain why I was finally able to accept this film into my collection, and why, at last, I could just sit and watch each film, one right after the other. If this film can bring me any kind of joy, it’s because of that. It may be a small token, but I’ll take it over nothing at all.

Original Release Date: Sept. 12, 2014

Director: J. James Manera

Writers: J. James Manera, Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro

Starring: Laura Regan, Kristoffer Polaha, Greg Germann, Erik Allan Kramer, Tony Denison, Mark Moses, Lew Temple, Stephen Tobolowsky, Peter Mackenzie, Larry Cedar, Louis Herthum, Rob Morrow and Joaquim De Almeida

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