It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Atlas Shrugged Part I was box office poison. It was a dry adaptation of the first third of an unfilmable book, starring Taylor Schilling pre-Orange Is The New Black. The studio presumed that it would find success because it courted a conservative market that is largely ignored by Hollywood. This was a huge miscalculation, because nakedly conservative films have (typically) been driven to profitability by church groups and Rand isn’t exactly a fan of religion. Also, while plenty of Republican politicians cite Atlas Shrugged as an influence, I’d wager that most either (1) haven’t read it or (2) didn’t understand it because otherwise they’d have to realize modern American political conservatism has way more in common with the regulatory capture and obstructionism of the villains than the ambitious drive of the protagonists. Socialism wasn’t the only windmill Rand tilted at with Atlas Shrugged, after all.
The misguided quest to film a book that didn’t need to be filmed should have ended with the failure of Part I. The free market spoke. But the producers didn’t listen. They still had a vision to complete, even if it would have to be reduced in scope and, hilariously, funded by selling debt. The entire cast was replaced. Jason Beghe took over for Grant Bowler as Hank Reardon. And Taylor Schilling was swapped out for Samantha Mathis, who is probably best known by readers of this blog as Daisy from the Super Mario Brothers Movie.
When we last saw our heroes, Hank Rearden was fuming over yet another set of governmental regulations that would make it illegal to produce his “Rearden Metal”, which may or may not just be a type of steel. And Dagny Taggart was screaming at a burning oil field after tycoon Ellis Wyatt decided to torch all his product rather than let the government tax the state of Colorado. Wyatt then disappeared with a mysterious fedora-wearing dude, John Galt, whose very name has become a rhetorical question that no one has an answer for, because this world is very much like our own but does not have Google.