‘Atlas’ Netflix Review: Jennifer Lopez Led Film Is A Boring Amalgamation Of Every Sci-Fi Movie Concept


Movies have always been anti-Artificial Intelligence. Something as old as 2001: A Space Odyssey showed how a simple computer program can become malevolent if it’s not taught how to be humane. The Terminator franchise was centered around rogue A.I. programs taking over the world. The same can be said about the Matrix franchise. Even a franchise like Mission: Impossible, whose threats were usually limited to biological or nuclear, waged war against A.I. in its latest installment. So, it was really surprising to see Netflix release a pro-A.I. film like Heart of Stone right after revealing that they were using A.I. to “quicken” their post-production process. Of course, there was backlash, but did the streaming platform have a change of heart? Well, while they are silent about how they use A.I. for making films and shows, they are here with another pro-A.I. film called Atlas.

Brad Peyton’s Atlas is set in a future where humanity is entirely dependent on humanoid androids with Artificial Intelligence. Val Shepherd was developing an android called Harlan, who treated Val like his mother and Val’s daughter, Atlas, like his sister. But one night, he decided to purge humanity and caused every robot all over the world to kill off their human masters. That’s why humans created the International Coalition of Nations to take a unified approach to battling AI. This pushed Harlan and his fellow robots to leave Earth. However, he did promise to return to finish the job that he had started. Atlas grew up to be an analyst at the ICN, and when the time came to join a mission to capture Harlan, who was taking refuge on GR-39 in the Andromeda Galaxy, she jumped on the opportunity because she knew Harlan better than anyone in the ICN. Sadly, the operation went sideways very quickly, thereby prompting Atlas to go against her instincts and trust her A.I. partner, Smith, to get the job done.

Saying that Atlas is unoriginal will be an understatement. I don’t want to undermine the writers’ ability to conjure this truly atrocious script, but it does feel like Sardarian and Coleite have taken a bunch of concepts from every sci-fi film in the history of cinema, run them through a ChatGPT-esque program, and called it a day. And you know what? I would’ve been fine with yet another film about a robot going rogue and causing the extinction of humankind. But it’s the lack of nuance while forming the bond between Atlas and Smith that irks me. It presents a derivative but interesting dilemma where the protagonist has to trust the one thing she hates (A.I.) for the sake of her survival, and it’s resolved via a bland trust-building exercise. Imagine if Ripley’s hatred towards Ash or Sarah Connor’s fear of the T-800 were introduced and resolved in the same film. Wouldn’t that have been interesting? The simple answer is no. What’s worse is that, instead of using Harlan to dispel or confirm Atlas’ fear about A.I., the writers just use a different A.I. program to do the same. I guess they were so desperate to say “not all A.I.” that they just forgot how to write a good script.

Visually, there’s always a lot going on in Atlas. It’s clear that the VFX and CGI artists have been through the ringer to craft every busy frame of the film. But Brad Peyton’s vision is so mundane that none of it manages to leave an impression. And it’s wild that, despite working on CGI-heavy movies in the past, Peyton still hasn’t managed to shed his love for the awfully lit, dull-brown-and-gray aesthetic. CGI artists, VFX artists, cinematographers, editors, production designers, and art directors can create anything that your mind can imagine. But to use their skills to create these flat-looking hangars, unappealing mech-suits, and forgettable worlds is nothing short of insulting. Just think about Pandora from Avatar, the suits from The Matrix Revolutions, or the environments from the recently released Dune Part Two, and then look at whatever Atlas has to show. It’s not like Peyton doesn’t have the budget to make something memorable. There’s so much CGI in the film that it’s practically an animated movie, and yet none of it is used to do anything new in the realm of sci-fi. Well, since Netflix is in the business of making background films, I guess people will play it while doing their chores; the streaming platform will count it as a view, claim that it’s the most popular film in the genre, and continue to make more slop like this.

I think you need to have a healthy supply of the tea on Jennifer Lopez’s latest rebranding to understand what’s going on with her creative choices. Based on my surface-level knowledge, I’ll say that all her recent work is really self-centered. The Mother had the potential to be an interesting and action-packed film, but it was so focused on dedicating every frame to Lopez that there was no room for a compelling narrative or characters. This Is Me… Now: A Love Story was a vanity project. And, even though Atlas isn’t about Lopez, the way it manages to sacrifice storytelling and worldbuilding so that the spotlight can stay on her should be studied in laboratories and film institutes. By the way, if Lopez was a great actor, if the script was amazing, and if the direction was imaginative, I would’ve been okay with Lopez spending most of the film’s runtime sitting in a rig while all the action is done by the CGI and the VFX artists. As for her supporting cast, I don’t really have anything to say about Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown, Mark Strong, Gregory James Cohan, and Abraham Popoola. They are there in the film. I hope they got paid properly and that the amount on their checks wasn’t proportional to their screen time.

I know that a lot has been said about the “death of cinema” due to the rise of superhero movies and shows, and the criticism of that subgenre has resulted in a significant decline in its box-office collections and the frequency with which they are released. The same should happen to these million-dollar faux-action blockbusters that Netflix America is doing. There’s Red Notice, The Gray Man, Heart of Stone, Army of the Dead, the Rebel Moon franchise, Damsel, and now Atlas. They are so vapid and forgettable that it seems like a crime to give these artists so much money just so that they can make something that people will see while scrolling through their phones. Seemingly moderately budgeted, non-American Netflix films are faring much better, though. This year alone, I’ve seen Sixty Minutes, Badland Hunters, Code 8: Part II, 24 Hours with Gaspar, Heart of the Hunter, and City Hunter. They aren’t perfect, but at the very least, I can remember scenes from these films, and it feels like they’ve been made by humans who want to say something through their art. In conclusion, I wish to see more of that and less pro-A.I. nonsense like Atlas.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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