Credit: Netflix
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Streaming Scene

Atlas — Brad Peyton

May 24, 2024

The latest movie star to fight the machines is Jennifer Lopez, the title character in the extremely generic Atlas. It’s the future, of course, and humanity is at war with “AI Terrorists” led by Harlan (Simu Liu), who also happened to be invented by Atlas’ mother (Lana Parrilla) before murdering her, setting off a wave of attacks that cost millions of human lives, and then de-camping for an unknown outer space zip code. Years later, in the midst of war, Atlas is all grown up and an expert in hating robots. The military comes a-calling, and they want Atlas to head to an alien planet where Harlan has been hiding because, of course, nobody knows him as well as she does. She reluctantly agrees, and you can imagine how the rest goes.

Most of the movie is taken up by Atlas’ relationship with a giant AI-powered (more on that later) mech suit who’s referred to as Smith. It’s piloted with the aid of a powerful link between Atlas’ mind and the computer, but given her general wariness of robots, Atlas keeps resisting Smith’s pleas to fully connect with him. Of course, in order to do that, she’ll need to unpack the guilt and trauma of her mother’s murder and her secret past with Harlan. All of that means that large stretches of Atlas are devoted to Lopez sitting and talking to a disembodied voice in what amounts to extended therapy scenes, usually while the robot suit is parked at the bottom of a hole or something equally dull.

On a semi-related note, why is it that so many films that feature AI/robot characters (I, Robot, Chappie, The Creator, on and on) are plagued with the same nonsensical story elements? More specifically, these future human societies are usually fighting deadly conflicts against their technologically superior foe, and yet they deploy the same tech against them and also find it ubiquitous in their daily lives? Wouldn’t that be, you know, really risky? Secondly, these AI characters always end up “dying” or are afraid of being “killed”, when, sentient or not, they’re still just code on a drive somewhere. Why Altas winds up concerned for the well-being of her friendly mech-suit OS at the end makes no sense at all. Can’t it just be uploaded into another suit? Such observation may be a digression when it comes to the sum of Atlas, but someone really needs to start rethinking the basic framework of these AI-trading narratives.

As directed by Brad Peyton (Rampage, San Andreas), Atlas is, quite frustratingly, visually unremarkable. Its alien landscapes are limited to the umpteenth cinematic iteration of barren, rocky deserts and glowing plants. And the film’s action is a digital smear, especially in a finale featuring a melee between the giant robot and Harlan, which in execution is indistinguishable from standard green screen MCU slop. Lopez is instead asked to carry the entire thing dramatically (pour one out for totally wasted supporting players Mark Strong and Sterling K. Brown), but it’s impossible for her to do that when given material this bland, derivative, and illogical. Instead, Atlas basically forces Lopez into a two-hour sci-fi Betterhelp Zoom call, and the results are about as exciting as that sounds.