Atlas (Shrugs)

Film review of Atlas. Picture: ON FILE

By Seth Lukas Hynes


Starring Jennifer Lopez, Simu Liu and Gregory James Cohan

Rated M


Atlas is an unfocused but enjoyable sci-fi throwback starring Jennifer Lopez as Atlas, an analyst who must bond with her AI companion Smith (Gregory James Cohan) as she hunts the renegade AI Harlan (Simu Liu) on a distant planet.

While the plot is a generic pastiche of The Terminator, Aliens and Avatar, the film has some poignant and witty exchanges and a committed lead performance from Lopez, and Smith develops an endearing smartaleck persona as he bonds with Atlas.

The action sequences overall feel like impersonal video game cut-scenes, but still have several cool moments, and the film ends with an over-the-top but exciting combination of mech gunplay and android swordplay in a lava flow.

The process of Atlas syncing with Smith is a decent framing device for revealing Atlas’s backstory, but the film still heavily relies on blunt exposition, with an illogical, ridiculously extreme motivation for the AI villain Harlan.

The visuals are stunning, but the enemies are some of the most uninspired AI characters in a long time; AI or androids can look humanoid, which may make them sympathetic (Ash from Aliens) or deceptive (take your pick of Terminators), but Atlas’s AI look and behave too much like regular people to stand out.

Atlas awkwardly juggles pathos and laughs, and despite Atlas’s rough-and-tumble journey and Harlan’s genocidal goals, much of the film progresses with a strange lack of urgency.

The film’s message of learning to trust “good AI” also feels naïve when AI is such an ethical minefield today.

Insubstantial but entertaining, Atlas feels like a big-budget version of a silly, scatterbrained nineties sci-fi B-movie, which isn’t a bad thing, and is available for streaming on Netflix.