Netflix’s ‘Atlas’ Movie Review: Solid Action And Intriguing Story

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard that artificial intelligence would one day rule the world. As technology advances at an exponential rate, the fear that stems from that sentiment seems to be increasing as well. Will one day machines and A.I. completely take over our world, resulting in the demise of the human population? Will humans no longer be at the top of the food chain, having built the next link in the chain with our own hands and the never-ending pursuit for more? While I think we are still far from that becoming our reality, this idea has been at the center of many science fiction films and series, including the upcoming Netflix movie, Atlas.

Directed by Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Rampage, Daybreak) and written by Leo Sardarian (StartUp) and Aron Eli Coleite (Daybreak, Heroes), Atlas explores what happens when the human race has been raging war against the machines for decades. Jennifer Lopez stars as the title character Atlas Shepherd and is joined by a talented cast; Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown, Mark Strong, and Lana Parrilla

As a co-production of ASAP Entertainment, Safehouse Pictures, Nuyorican Productions, and Berlanti-Schechter Films (co-own by Greg Berlanti, and the production company that brought the world Red, White & Royal Blue), Atlas is ready to bring a healthy dose of action to our screens this Friday. Continue on to see if this film should be a part of your Memorial Weekend plans.

[There are light spoilers for Atlas ahead.]

Atlas Shepherd finds herself in the middle of a war in this Netflix film

At the age of 38, Atlas (Lopez) has experienced more than a lifetime of disaster and heartache, all thanks to a war that just doesn’t seem to end. Beginning when she was just a 10-year-old child, the balance that existed between humans and artificial intelligence tipped unfavorably for humankind. As the daughter of the creator of A.I., Val (Lana Parrilla), Atlas watched firsthand how fast the tides of war can change, especially when the machines shook off their shackles and rose to power.

Atlas. Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix ©2024.
Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd in Atlas. Image courtesy of Netflix.

As a result, she feels she has a sense of obligation and responsibility to the human race, to find the leader of the A.I. army, Harlan (Simu Liu), and bring him to justice. When information comes to light about his whereabouts, Atlas sets off on an adventure with Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown) across space to stop Harlan before he brings the war back home. Easier said than done for the brilliant scientist, who forgoes her lifestyle and safety to travel to war-torn planets with danger lurking behind every corner.

And yet, traveling through space isn’t the most difficult part for Atlas, who almost doesn’t seem phased by it. Instead, she must learn to trust the very thing she’s leaving home to hunt down. Time is ticking down and success isn’t promised, but with the help of Smith, her mecha suit that becomes her saving grace, she just might be able to finish the job before it’s too late.

Wonderful action and an interesting story make Atlas fun to watch

It takes a lot to impress me with action films, as they aren’t my favorite genre. Give me a drama any day of the week or a romantic comedy, and I’m set for the length of their runtime. However, action films fall into a similar trap: the story is all but forgotten for cool graphics and stellar stunts. Sure, it looks cool, but where’s the substance? There are only so many times you can see a car chase before they all start to feel the same. I suppose the same argument could be made with the same cookie-cutter Hallmark movie, but there’s something about action films that I struggle to connect with if the story itself feels lacking in some way.

For Atlas, I didn’t experience this issue, as the story was fascinating enough to keep me glued to my seat for the two-hour film. It doesn’t feel like the same old artificial intelligence taking over the world of film. Atlas is more about saving the world from impending destruction, a war that has been brewing for almost three decades. It was also a personal journey, as Atlas learns to trust herself and the world around her. She goes from a scared child in an adult body to a bad-ass hero in her own right.

This second journey made Atlas all the more enjoyable for me, as it appealed to the psychologist in me. Watching someone grow past their trauma adds character depth and an arc that elevates the war between man and machine plot to something more, which is necessary to differentiate from every other film in this genre. 

Atlas 2
Still from Atlas. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Paired with that, Atlas did have some fun action, thanks to Simu Liu’s character and a loveable mecha suit. Liu has become one of my favorite stars on the scene currently, and part of that is the level of ease he gives in his action scenes. Similar in nature to how he was in Shang-Chi, Harlan looks incredibly cool as he’s flipping through the sky and delivering devastating blows to JLo

The scenes in which Atlas is in Smith and going on a rampage are some of my favorites. Smith is a favorite of mine, and I expect him to become a beloved character for most people who see him. The wisecracking suit adds levity to the film’s heaviness but also provides the heart of the story.

Jennifer Lopez’s characterization in Atlas left me puzzled

The biggest headscratchers from this film were Atlas herself, who felt neglected in her own film. For starters, Lopez is a 54-year-old who is playing a 38-year-old. I can understand why this shouldn’t be a problem, but it kept catching me, as there was nothing of importance for that big of age gap between the actor and the role. It wasn’t significant to the story for it to take 28 years later, so why not make it 38 years? Why not embrace Lopez’s age and allow her to be an awesome, gorgeous, bad-ass woman who is in her 50’s saving the world from A.I. That is the narrative Atlas should have embraced instead of attempting to hide her age like it’s something to be afraid of.

I’m not sure who made that call, but seriously, people, there’s nothing wrong with aging. Embrace the wrinkles, let your grays show. You’re beautiful no matter what. Let’s start telling stories that also encourage that narrative instead of feeling shameful for being in our 50s. Like, come on…we’re all going to wish we looked like JLo when we’re her age.

Atlas also felt rather one-dimensional for the first half of the film. I understood why they chose to do so by the end, as Atlas has channeled her trauma into a specific mission, which pushes her to pursue Harlan across the universe, but I feel like there were other ways to portray that on screen. I’m not sure if this was a choice by the writers, director, or Lopez herself, but something felt off, and I think I would have connected even more if I had something else from Atlas.

Final thoughts on Netflix’s newest Sci-Fi Film

Overall, I enjoyed Atlas more than many other action films currently out. It has everything that fans of the genre could want but provides other substance for those who are looking for something more. The story of Atlas Shepherd is strong and one that many will be able to relate to, as we’ve all struggled with something from our past that we just can’t seem to shake. Sure, it might not concern A.I. attempting to take over the world, but the drive is still the same. If you’re looking for something fast-paced to watch this weekend between the yardwork and grilled hotdogs, than Atlas should definitely be on the top of your list.

Atlas is streaming on Netflix on Friday, May 24, 2024.

Learn more about the film, including how to watch, at the Netflix website for the title.

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