Atlas – Buddy Movie with Jennifer Lopez and an AI-Controlled Mech

MOVIE REVIEW – If you love getting lost in a sea of sci-fi clichés, you’ll find plenty of that on this “Atlas.” The scriptwriters have scavenged elements from Titanfall 2 and Detroit: Become Human in the gaming world, and of course, the good old Terminator fear isn’t missing either. Beyond the myriad action scenes, Hollywood’s message about AI is clear: there’s the evil, destructive AI, and the good, reliable AI with which Jennifer Lopez’s character engages in a sort of “buddy movie” to fight the bad guys.


There’s a profound, albeit hidden difference between films that passionately deal with well-executed old ideas and those that merely recognize them. The former carefully analyze and dissect successful ideas from the past, using them tactfully, if not always innovatively. The latter, however, simply pat themselves on the back for recognizing the potential and proceed to haphazardly mimic old motifs without proper execution. The former can be seen as “homage,” but Atlas is just the latest lackluster addition to Netflix’s sci-fi lineup and a typical example of the latter. The film had all the necessary elements to succeed, and traces of this potential can be found throughout. Unfortunately, it wastes these classic motifs on a forgettable, cliché-ridden, often syrupy, and at times just plain mediocre and foolish film.



Atlas Doesn’t Discriminate: She Hates Everyone


Jennifer Lopez stars as Atlas Shepherd, a pioneering data analyst who despises both humans and robots. She is recruited to help capture Harlan, an advanced AI terrorist intent on waging an all-out war against humanity. Atlas harbors a personal vendetta against Harlan due to a past tragedy. When a preemptive strike by Harlan leaves Atlas stranded in enemy territory, she is reluctantly forced to team up with Smith, an AI-controlled mech warrior that might be her last hope.

While the premise doesn’t sound bad initially, Atlas’s character, upon closer inspection, is a poorly developed protagonist. Part of the problem is the film’s confusion about how her character arc fits with its thematic elements. Between lazy character exposition, Atlas’s constant whining, and the film’s clumsy action scenes, her story is about learning to trust others. Ideally, Atlas would have used this starting point to expand on how we relate to each other and delve deeper into transhumanism as the next evolutionary step for humanity, something that the AI-rich future could have explored extensively.



This Isn’t Blade Runner


That’s just one potential direction; the real problem is that Atlas doesn’t really go in any direction at all. Atlas’s introduction is so unnatural that the film doesn’t take the time to make her character arc cohesive or hit any emotional high points. Any moment that could have been filled with philosophical questions about AI (à la Blade Runner) or any thematic ideas is quickly pushed aside for a sarcastic exchange or a corny joke about how outdated our current technology is. Occasionally, Atlas and the AI named Smith (a nod to The Matrix, perhaps?) discuss whether AI can be considered “life,” but just when it’s about to get interesting, the conversation devolves into superficial clichés, like reading Facebook comments in a silly group. It’s a shame because, despite the stupid script, Lopez manages to pull off a decent performance and portrays Atlas as well as possible – even with her rather lame dialogues.

Sterling K. Brown’s role is similarly wasted. He’s cast as Elias Banks, the colonel leading the campaign against Harlan. Banks never owns the space dramatically, doesn’t serve as the conduit for our empathy, and lacks good dialogues – which are Brown’s strengths. He probably took on Atlas as a routine job, but even this minimum standard isn’t met.



Harlan is OK, the action is meh


Simu Liu, on the other hand, portrays Harlan quite well. Unfortunately, Liu doesn’t get enough screen time, which at least prevents him from falling victim to the weak script. With a better script, Harlan could have been an excellent tool to illustrate that “transhumanism might be the next step in human evolution, but it’s clear we haven’t fully mastered the step we’re currently on.” Anyone expecting him to be a sort of Roy Batty from Blade Runner will be disappointed: on the surface, he might seem similar, but in depth, he’s just a cheap imitation.

And even if Atlas had wanted to be a big, loud, action-packed sci-fi blockbuster, it squandered that potential almost entirely. Not long after the film begins, we are introduced to Harlan’s henchman, Casca Vix (played by Abraham Popoola); a menacing, Terminator-like, bulletproof robot who mostly takes out soldiers with his bare hands – in poorly choreographed fight scenes. One would expect his distinctive physical power and combat style to be explored more cleverly as the film progresses, but Atlas’s action scenes are mostly generic sci-fi shootouts, where a few attempts at creative but silly massacres are offset by tolerable visual effects (though Harlan’s preferred fighting style is admittedly cool).



This Isn’t the Atlas You’re Looking For


Despite being named after the Greek Titan who holds up the sky, Atlas crumbles under the weight of its script, which commits three major storytelling sins: it spoon-feeds us who the protagonist is instead of letting the character unfold through events; it avoids intellectual responsibility with empty jokes; and it tries to evoke emotions without laying the proper emotional groundwork.

Moreover, it’s painfully clear that Atlas was more interested in pretending to engage in the critical and current debate about AI rather than actually diving into it. Given the potential that the story had in this area, this is particularly disappointing.

-Herpai Gergely (BadSector)-



Direction - 5.2
Actors - 3.2
Story - 2.6
Visuals/Music/Sounds/Action - 6.6
Ambience - 6.4



Much like the AI we know in the real world, Atlas is unable to turn its potential into something truly noteworthy. The film, starring Jennifer Lopez, tries to tackle deep philosophical questions about AI and human relationships but ends up delivering only superficial and cliché-ridden action scenes. Despite its promising premise, Atlas fails to become a memorable or significant sci-fi experience.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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