Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“ATLAS”

THE STORYA brilliant data analyst with a deep distrust of AI finds it may be her only hope when a mission to capture a renegade robot goes awry.

THE CASTJennifer Lopez, Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown & Mark Strong

THE TEAMBrad Peyton (Director), Leo Sardarian & Aron Eli Coleite (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes


We quickly forget how good of an actress Jennifer Lopez is. You may not like her as a person; you may not like her as a singer, and you may groan every time you have to watch a new JLo vehicle, but there’s a chance you’ll come out of her films going, “Damn, she’s good.”

In “Atlas,” Lopez stars as the titular character in her first foray into the sci-fi genre since the 2000 cult classic, “The Cell.” Her latest Netflix original following last year’s “The Mother,” unfortunately, as sci-fi movies go, feels like nothing but a lesser version of better films in the genre. And as a film about a human learning to trust artificial intelligence to survive, it feels incredibly misguided after months spent watching the entertainment industry fight against AI. Lopez’s performance, along with the detail that the Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite penned script pays to her character, are the only saving graces for “Atlas.”

Dystopian-level panic erupts as the Brad Peyton-directed film introduces us to a future world where AI bots fight back. Led by one bot in particular, Harlan (Simu Liu), created to help improve life on Earth, it is responsible for overriding AI security protocols. This results in worldwide destruction, with millions dead. With seemingly no end in sight to this war against artificial intelligence, Harlan eventually flees into space but vows to return to finish what he started.

Twenty-eight years later, humanity is still waiting for Harlan to follow up on that promise – but Earth won’t make it easy. Many armies, like that of the US, have been working to prevent Harlan’s return with the help of counter-terrorism experts like Atlas Shepherd (Lopez). They don’t just want to prevent Harlan from returning; They want to find him. When they finally figure out which unsurveyed alien planet he’s been hiding on this whole time, thanks to the skilled Atlas, she’s determined to be the one to bring him down, despite doubts cast on her character by Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown). Others, like General Jake Boothe (Mark Strong), see her hostile nature and distrust of both people and AI as an indicator of her driven personality. These characteristics go back to a past full of pain and guilt, linked to a personal history with Harlan. She has to contend with her past now more than ever, and it’s the drive of this story.

An inhospitable planet with an AI army that’s much stronger than any human spells conflict and difficulty, and this effort doesn’t start with a smooth landing as Atlas is blown out of her spaceship after an attack. Luckily, she’s wearing an AI-powered suit resembling a copy of Avatar’s AMPs. But imagine that with Siri talking your ear off the whole time. This suit is a weapon to use against Harlan, but it is also what’s keeping her alive as the misanthropic Atlas finds herself alone. Usually, this would be the ideal situation for her, but now she has Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan) as her AI voice companion. After spending her entire life hating AI, she’ll have to put her feelings aside and learn to trust Smith in order to survive and stop Harlan before he destroys Earth for good.

If that sounds like a pretty basic premise, it’s because it is. Even the baddie is basic; his only uniqueness is that he’s an AI bot. Otherwise, the film is just as bland as the alien planet Atlas finds herself on. There’s nothing that impresses in the film’s futuristic setting. The CGI, especially for the environments, looks like cheap replicas of what we’ve already seen done better in franchises like “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars.” The action sequences leave much to be desired, too, but many moments could have been great. The attack where Atlas is blown out of the sky could have turned into a great space battle, but it is unfocused. There is one fight at the end that’s at least entertaining.

While the world-building doesn’t feel like anything new or exciting, J. Lo kicks ass, literally, but also in her performance. The star spends most of the film acting alone within the small confines of her suit. It takes great skill to keep an audience engaged when you’re the only person on screen, but she does it easily. The film takes a buddy-cop turn as the banter with her AI voice companion makes the film lively and comedic. And while other characters fall flat, Atlas is given an excellent backstory that becomes the emotional hook that successfully anchors the rest of the narrative. Her performance turns into an emotional one as her journey to find Harlan and try to survive takes its toll. Finding herself alone results in frustration and panic, especially as she has to put all her fate into the one thing she hates most: AI.

It seems like the main goal of “Atlas” is to build a sense of connection between the titular character and Smith, which creates an emotional reaction in the audience. This is indeed achieved, as it convinces you that their relationship forms into a bond of friendship; however, it comes off feeling insincere and agenda-driven by one of the studios that was specifically called out in a 15-page report by Writers’ Guild of America West during the strike. It’s a relationship built to say that AI is OK, but it doesn’t make sense when you consider her attitude towards AI, which has driven her to this point. This reflects how muddled the film is with its messaging – even if there really isn’t anything it’s trying to say. Is AI good? Is AI bad? Does it matter? It doesn’t try to say anything new or of any impact.

Ultimately, the film’s only impact is the icky feeling it gives you as it has this human being giving everything of themselves to AI to survive. The film feels misguided, especially now and because of what we know of AI. It’s a tool that can be weaponized, literally for warfare, but also against us. In the entertainment industry, AI can replicate performers’ faces and voices and even write scripts. The fight against big studios for protections against AI reverberated across all fields where it could render us obsolete. AI is also really scary. You don’t know what images are real anymore. You don’t know if the face you see in a video is an actual person or a deep fake. Your voice and/or image can be used without your consent (as we saw this week with the Scarlett Johansson ChatGPT case). Unlike Atlas and Smith, our relationship with artificial intelligence doesn’t feel anywhere near harmonious – and it probably shouldn’t be.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Jennifer Lopez's emotional performance and well-crafted backstory drive the narrative and keep the audience engaged throughout.

THE BAD - It's built on the lesser parts of many sci-fi films. The world-building doesn't feel new or exciting. It also feels misguided to release a movie about being buddy-buddy with AI when the entertainment industry spent months protesting against it.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 4/10

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Sara Clements
Sara Clementshttps://nextbestpicture.com
Writes at Exclaim, Daily Dead, Bloody Disgusting, The Mary Sue & Digital Spy. GALECA Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Jennifer Lopez's emotional performance and well-crafted backstory drive the narrative and keep the audience engaged throughout.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It's built on the lesser parts of many sci-fi films. The world-building doesn't feel new or exciting. It also feels misguided to release a movie about being buddy-buddy with AI when the entertainment industry spent months protesting against it.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>4/10<br><br>"ATLAS"