Jennifer Lopez in Atlas sitting inside of a futuristic vehicle.

Film Review: Atlas


Director: Brad Peyton
ASAP Entertainment and Berlanti-Schecter Films
Streaming on Netflix 05.24

As we enter Memorial Day weekend, not everyone will be heading off to various vacation destinations, or to movie theaters. Even those who are staying home need an exciting event or treat to make the weekend feel special, however, and Netflix is hoping that Atlas, the new science fiction action film staring Jennifer Lopez, will be just that. Spoiler Alert: it won’t.

In a grim future where artificial intelligence has concluded that the only way to bring about peace on Earth is by eliminating humanity, and has therefore rebelled against mankind under the leadership of a humanoid AI terrorist named Harlan (Simu Liu, Shang Chi and the Ten Rings, Barbie), the only hope lies with jaded data analyst Atlas Shepherd (Lopez). Atlas is the daughter of scientist Val Shepherd (Lana Parrilla, Once Upon a Time, Why Women Kill), who created Harlan to help advance mankind and was ultimately betrayed and murdered by him. As the world’s foremost expert on this cybernetic villain, Atlas joins a special military mission to apprehend the rogue AI, led by Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown, This is Us, American Fiction). Banks believes that the key to success lies in combining the strengths of humanity and AI technology, and encourages Atlas to accept a neural link with an AI mech suit to complete the mission, though having grown up alongside Harlan, she has a deep-seated distrust. As the mission takes unexpected turns, she finds herself forced to depend on an AI program named Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan, The VelociPastor) as her only ally in the fight to safeguard the future of humanity.

Director Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Rampage) and cinematographer John Schwartzman (Jurassic World, Armageddon), a $100 million dollar budget and the VFX wizards at MPC and Industrial Light & Magic manage to create a sleek and shiny looking product that often looks like a blockbuster and quacks like a blockbuster, and the story concept is just topical enough to have potential. What they aren’t able to offer is a distinctive vision or any fresh ideas and the film feels cobbled together out of spare parts. The world building feels almost deliberately vague in order to be able to adapt to whatever Atlas wants to emulate at any given moment, whether it’s Terminator, Pacific Rim, Minority Report, Aliens, Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica or the videogame Titanfall. The screenplay by Leo Sardarian (Startup) and Aron Eli Coleite (Daybreak) dares to tackle some very deep philosophical questions, including: Why is the main character named Atlas? (To give the movie a title—“Why is the title Atlas?—Because it’s the main character’s name) and “How many times can we get a laugh by having a robot say ‘shit’?”(The answer to this depends on mitigating factors such as whether you’re either inebriated or 12). The action keeps coming at a steady pace, though it’s strictly by the numbers. 

Lopez has proven that she can be a powerhouse actress when cast in the right role, but the character of Atlas Shepherd is not that role. She feels woefully out of place in first act as the stoic and wary analyst, though she’s considerably better once she’s thrown into the action and interacting with Smith. Cohan gives the most memorable performance in the film, and I still found myself wondering if it could have been stronger with a more experienced comic in the role. While there’s no getting around the fact Liu is extremely bland in the role of Harlan, he’s been given so little to work with that it feels more than unfair to place much of the blame on the actor. 

Atlas is a prime example of the kind of assembly line filmmaking that may benefit from costing you nothing apart from your Netflix subscription, though considering that the CGI eye candy is its strongest element, it also feels like it may play marginally better on a big screen. It’s certainly more fun than Rebel Moon, though that’s hardly an impressive distinction. Atlas is a fairly adequate way to kill two hours of your time without taxing your brain or your emotions, and nothing more. –Patrick Gibbs

Read more sci-fi film reviews here:
Film Review: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Film Review: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga