Atlas (2024) Netflix Movie Review – A stellar performance from JLO is let down by weak writing

A stellar performance from JLO is let down by weak writing

There’s nothing wrong with simple stories but even simple storytelling must be good — engaging and capable of holding interest. Netflix is known for releasing straightforwardly entertaining films from every genre but the streaming platform has had both, hits and misses. Damsel, featuring Millie Bobby Brown in a feminist retelling of a fairytale, stuck to the basics and offered up a decently entertaining fantasy drama.

The more recent Mother of the Bride needed some serious suspension of disbelief towards the end and received favourable reviews despite that. But then there are films like Heart of Stone, where simple storytelling simply doesn’t live up to the themes and ideas the film is exploring. Here is where Netflix, and its newest sci-fi thriller named Atlas, goes wrong.

The Netflix movie revolves around Atlas Shepherd, portrayed by Jennifer Lopez. Her mother created an AI named Harlan but he turned on humanity, taking every other AI with him. After killing millions, Harlan left the planet. Now, 28 years later, he’s back and determined to destroy the Earth. Atlas, now a skilled analyst with a deep mistrust of AI, joins the mission to bring him down.

But things go wrong and Atlas ends up alone. Her only hope is a mech suit run by an AI named Smith. And the only way she can survive is to trust Smith and fully sync with him through a device called a neural link. The rest of the movie follows Atlas’ attempts at figuring out Harlan’s plan while reluctantly opening up to Smith. The bond between analyst and AI becomes the crux of the movie and in that sense, the film fares quite well.

Atlas is prickly and sarcastic and Smith soon picks up on her tone of voice, even her cussing, in an attempt to bond. Atlas keeps her thoughts and feelings guarded but Smith is endlessly patient with her. In addition to the contrast between his polite monotone and Atlas’ sharp tongue, the two characters create an engaging dynamic on screen.

A lot of this comes down to JLO’s fantastic acting chops, seeing as she carries the entire film on her back. Atlas’ personality is established early on, as she wins a chess match against a computer while barely looking at the board and speaks to everybody like she’s two steps ahead of the game at any given point.

But Lopez takes the trope of the rude cynic and gives Atlas more dimension, making her a delight to watch. Her portrayal of Atlas is compelling and emotive, despite the fact that for most of the film, she is acting alongside a bodiless voice, while confined within the small space of a mech suit.

Unfortunately, these are the only positives in the Netflix movie, which is ultimately let down by poor writing. And it’s not just that making a film about trusting artificial intelligence during times when AI is having very real repercussions on the world is a bit tone-deaf.

Even apart from the real-world context, Atlas’ narrative barely scratches the surface of its themes. In all of the main character’s struggles to trust Smith, the film doesn’t actually look at the pros and cons of working alongside AI. It’s more about Atlas’ personal issues and her difficulty opening up, to anybody.

The film presents Smith as a good AI and Harlan as a bad one, without really exploring why they belong to these categories. In fact, Harlan’s character is extremely one-dimensional, with Simu Liu’s talents extremely underutilized. There are questions posed about how much control humans can afford to give AI, but the questions aren’t really answered, even after certain scenes where the AI is able to control a person’s physical movements.

While Atlas rails against all AI, there’s no mention of the fact that a computer runs her house. The story, as a whole, lacks all nuance and curiosity. The weak, shallow writing makes everything else — the stellar star cast, Jennifer Lopez’s performance and the high production value — redundant.

Without a deeper look at AI and its role in the future, Atlas remains a simple, predictable movie. Ultimately, maybe this film could be enjoyed by someone looking for an easy watch that doesn’t require much thinking. In those cases, perhaps JLO’s performance and the sci-fi dramatics would be enough to scratch the itch. For anything more, the Netflix movie falls short.

Read More: Atlas Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 6/10

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