ATLAS Is a Trite and Tonally Confused Mess

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atlas, Netflix's new sci-fi space war movie about artificial intelligence gone rogue, is such a trope-filled mess, it'd be easy to say it looks like an AI wrote the script. It would also be accurate. When it was over, I honestly checked if the movie list real human writers in their credits. Yes, but that doesn't make me feel any better about humanity. atlas it's tonally confusing and rampant with clichéd ideas. He also thinks it's a good idea to keep Jennifer Lopez in a glorified chair for more than half of its running time.

It is difficult to quantify atlas because he has no idea what it really is. It never decides whether it's trying to be a fun, cheeky, big-budget B-movie or a more serious action movie full of important social commentary. I'm not even sure their co-stars know, because their performances indicate they were all acting in a different movie.

Lopez keeps this strange film from being a disaster with a fine performance as Atlas Shepherd, a brilliant, funny and introverted analyst with a troubling past that makes her hate artificial intelligence. She is strong, vulnerable and charming. He has a good time most of the time. Other times he's giving the role the emotional weight it needs. Meanwhile, Mark Strong and Sterling K. Brown play military commanders who are clearly in a much more serious film. This might not seem so out of place in front of Lopez if it weren't for the fact that the generally fantastic Simu Liu plays the first and foremost AI terrorist, the cartoonish villain Harlan, as if he's been waiting. atlas will end in Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Simu Liu in black clothes and a futuristic haircut in Atlas
netflix

Like many in this film, I'm confused by Liu's choices. I honestly don't know if he's bad or if he gave the exact performance that director Brad Peyton wanted. Either way it doesn't work.

To be fair to Liu, very little in this film works. The predictable script is full of artificial intelligence ideas and sci-fi plot points that were trite 30 years ago. It's also a variable-quality CGI fest where a million things “boom” without much significance, but most of them feel silly. The script, which also features some hammy dialogue, also has plot holes so big you could fly an intergalactic spaceship through them. At one point, an AI supercomputer with all the knowledge in the world doesn't know something that everyone else does because the plot needs it not to know. This supercomputer also forgets a “step” during an easy and clearly defined procedure. It's not funny anyway, no matter how hard you try. It's unnecessarily stupid.

Jennifer Lopez sitting in an advanced mech dress at Atlas
netflix

“Needlessly stupid” is also a perfect way to describe what the film asks of its star. Jennifer Lopez spends more than half of the film, and roughly 50 minutes straight at one point, in a mech outfit. From his chair he navigates a mock-Pandora planet while talking endlessly to an AI program that has the most uninteresting, bland, robot voice imaginable.

This voice choice is actually an interesting idea (perhaps the only one in the film). By not making it sound human, Atit forces us to reckon with what it really means to be alive. A robot that can think and feel for itself while clearly being a robot is harder to accept as alive than one that sounds like us. The problem is, this idea doesn't work on screen. The voice is instantly boring, boring even, even before most of the movie is Lopez and “Smith” with a continuous and (not so) witty back and forth.

Jennifer Lopez piloting a robot in the Netflix film Atlas
netflix

Also, sometimes the movie asks him to suit up and knock over a robot ten minutes before he gives a big emotional speech about whether computers have souls. atlas it's as if Blade Runner, Shipwreckedi Starship Troopers they got drunk together on a case of original Four Loko. That sounds fun until you remember that these movies shouldn't even be out together let alone drinking poison.

In short atlas you had to be much dumber or much smarter to be good. It was also necessary to let Jennifer Lopez walk. But its biggest sin might be what it ultimately says about the possibility of artificial intelligence at a time when corporations are forcing useless AI garage down our throats. Despite its lazy comic book villain, this movie loves artificial intelligence. He loves it very much and its possibilities. And he believes his affection for AI will give the film a heart it desperately wants.

Like humor, action, ideas and insight, it has no heart. All it has to offer is proof that humans are still completely capable of making a bad movie without AI

atlas comes to Netflix on May 24.

Mikey Walsh is a Nerdist writer who usually loves Simu Liu in everything. You can follow it Twitter i Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere anyone is ranking the Targaryen kings.





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