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Review: ‘Atlas’ A Great Sci-Fi Venture for Netflix

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Artificial Intelligence has been a recurring subject this year in headlines but also in movie plots for a while. Atlas is the latest to explore the ascension of AI turning against humans. This Jennifer Lopez Netflix film may lack uniqueness, but the story is made up for it with impressive visuals. Simu Liu as the villain Harlan is an interesting but unimpressive choice. Overall, Atlas will make for good at-home viewing when it premieres this week on Netflix.

[Warning: mild spoilers for the film discussed below]

Jennifer Lopez holds her own in Atlas

The concept is a simple one, Lopez is Atlas Shepherd, the daughter of a researcher who created the AIs that were responsible for the deaths of millions. Led by Harlan (Simu Liu), the AI are terrorists against humanity and then escape the planet Earth while planning on returning eventually to finish the job.

When we first meet Atlas Shepherd, she’s heavily disheveled and anti-social. A united global force has recently captured one of Harlan’s associates and intend to interrogate him to determine the location of Harlan and the rest of the rogue AI.

Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd in Atlas.
Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd in Atlas. (Netflix)

Atlas doesn’t waste any time in the front half of the movie, we see how intelligent Atlas is and get her contrast against Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown). A mission is assigned to Banks and his team, with Atlas tagging along because of her unmatched familiarity with her mother’s creations.

Atlas rightfully distrusts AI as a whole and is perturbed when it’s revealed that Banks’ team is utilizing mecha suits paired with Neuralinks for optimum piloting. After a surprise attack, Atlas herself is placed into one of the suits and has to rely on it for survival, going against everything she believes in.

Here is where the film begins to take off even higher, with Jennifer Lopez spending most of the rest of the film within a suit that reminds me of the titans from one of my favorite games, Titanfall 2. Gregory James Cohan provides the voice of the AI named Smith from inside the suit that Lopez acts against.

Credit should be given to Lopez for being able to emote so well within a confined space, and the camerawork behind that helped elevate so many sequences. I’ve never really considered her for any science-fiction roles, but was pretty impressed with her in this one. 

The visuals were fantastic throughout the movie

I’m not sure of the cost for this film, but whatever that number is, they squeezed every penny out of it and it’s noticeable. The landscapes on the alien planet are even more diverse than ours, with a forest reminiscent of the ones from Avatar, that lit up beautifully at night.

The look of futuristic downtown Los Angeles was insane. Their take on the famous Hollywood sign was one of the coolest looking concepts I’ve ever seen done this well.

Sterling K. Brown as Colonel Banks in Atlas.
Sterling K. Brown as Colonel Banks in Atlas. (Netflix)

The interior of the mech was indeed constructed, but of course, you have to have an interface. The interface constructed for Smith and the suit are exactly what you’d expect in a combat mech, with all sorts of instruments and indicators that keep a pilot informed of all systems while inside of it. The exterior was also awesome, with multiple arms and attachments that were wisely designed for combat situations.

The AIs weren’t all that impressive, since they had very few that were anything outside of human-like. There was Smith, which had its own visual for when it spoke with Atlas, but it wasn’t much more than a large icon that reminds me of Apple’s Siri voice-assistant.

Yet, in the opening there is the interrogation scene with Harlan’s associate Casca (Abraham Popoola) where it was just his head inside a high-tech briefcase, and it looked incredible. According to production notes, they had cut a hole in the floor, had him stand in it and then painted a box green on the inside. Later, they used CGI to make it seem as if the head was detached. 

Simu Liu’s Harlan left a little to be desired

I’m just as much a fan of Simu Liu as anyone, but it was already a hard sell to see him as an antagonist. Even with his best efforts, I wasn’t sold.

Not at the fault of Liu, though, the writing of the character was just as generic as they come for these sci-fi movies. There’s just not much humanity to him that makes him understandable. His reasoning for his actions we’ve seen done many times before, and better at that. 

Simu Liue as Harlan in Atlas.
Simu Liu as Harlan in Atlas. (Netflix)

The best they do with Liu is him having a big fight at one point, which visually was outstanding, and felt like a requisite third act for any sci-fi movie. Again, it’s not bad, but it didn’t do much for me except remind me of other movies and of video games. Even the setting felt familiar, but I won’t say which one, but you’ll notice it for yourself easily.

Atlas still makes for a fun watch at home

For it being a direct-to-streaming feature, I was still overall impressed by the high quality of this movie. The story may have been derivative, but it still provided some decent emotional hits.

If anything I found an issue with, it was the narrative behind AI. In a time when AI is a hotly contested subject and “tool” (for lack of a better word), the message of being distrustful towards it, only to pivot at the end left a bitter taste. The timing of the release is also unfortunate, with the current discourse around AI as a whole, which may leave audiences pondering the message rather than the film by the end.

Even with that touchy subject matter, the film itself can make for a good at-home date night watching. Lopez and Cohan provided great banter that managed to get a few chuckles out of me. Also, it’s nice to see a character that takes the quality (quad-Americano, which, I totally understand) of their coffee just as much as I do.

The stressors put on Atlas are relatable and make it easy for me to connect with Jennifer Lopez’s character immediately. Beautiful graphics had a feast for my eyes throughout the 2-hour run time.

I had fun with Atlas and also am grateful for its conclusion, not teasing anything at the end, just a general happy ending. Would I like to return to this world? Maybe, but sometimes a one-and-done is exactly what is needed.

Atlas is streaming on Netflix beginning May 24 ! Are you going to check out the latest Jennifer Lopez movie? Let us know your thoughts on it at our social media @mycosmiccircus, or join the Discord server to discuss this and much more.

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Anthony Flagg

Howdy! I cover a variety of topics for The Cosmic Circus. My favorite topics to write about are video games, Pokemon and music. Drop me a line on Twitter! @redovah_

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