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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Atlas' review: Jennifer Lopez & technology can not see AI to eye

Jennifer Lopez staring at a hologram

To be honest, there's no battle worth fighting if you don't have the poisonous gasoline known as coffee running inside your veins and giving you energy, let alone one against artificial intelligence armed with plenty of deadly weaponry. Caffeine addicts emerge from their slumbers for Atlas, directed by Brad Peyton. Jennifer Lopez stars in this sci-fi thriller as the titular Atlas Shepherd, a data analyst who lives a quiet life and is deeply sceptical of the advanced AI. Life, however, throws a curveball her way when Shepherd's former AI companion Harlan (Simu Liu), who has gone rogue, becomes a target of the military forces led by colonel Elias Banks (Sterling Brown Jr.). Shepherd joins the military's mission to capture Harlan but when things go south, she soon finds herself stranded in a hostile territory, hunted by Harlan's AI army and accompanied only by a robot suit and talking AI named Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan).

Atlas has the bad luck on its side already as it's coming out way after the advancements of AI and its understanding in real life, therefore you won't find much thematic weight in this movie in that regard. It is mostly using it as a shortcut to make an effects-heavy film with more holograms, banter and jargon about the binary (code) of good and evil than one can handle. Even giving the filmmakers leeway there, the bad news is that the film doesn't explore any interesting territory beyond that either. It doesn't help that Lopez is not only unable to elevate any resemblance of a theme like a great sci-fi movie lead should be, but she often struggles to find any kind of sincerity in her performance. This is why there's no way to track her character's emotional journey—there's a lot of whimpering and shouting but very little nuance or honesty in her eyes, facial expressions and particularly in her voice.

As far as the characters go, you certainly can't blame a woman trusting their robot toy more than a man or an AI who looks like a man, whether that's simply for a worthwhile conversation every now and then or to provide simple pleasures, but those conversations and Shepherd's path to trusting Smith wholeheartedly are never captivating in the slightest. Screenwriters Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite don't do an embarrassing job by any means but their contribution regarding a story about a woman learning new ways to communicate and survive underlines Atlas' entire thesis: at its best, it's merely serviceable.

Speaking of serviceable, a rare supporting player like Brown gives back a little bit more than he's given on the page, sound artists understand the metallic weight of the warfare and all the VFX artists (supervised by Lindy De Quattro) do a decent job in staging and designing the action, although they're working with the deadly boring orange-cyan colour scheme overseen by cinematographer John Schwartzman. Guess Hollywood had to start throwing all of their leftover orange shades to flashbacks in dystopian movies when its use to cheaply portray Mexico was called out.

What is less understanding of the weight or depth of this world is both Peyton's direction and also Andrew Lockington's score which are in their own battle for the most colourless element. Every frame of Atlas looks more or less like a stock image since Peyton neither gives his actors anything of value to do nor does he add anything memorable into the visual language. Add the needlessly melodramatic strings, brass and a generic production of the percussion section, and you have the dramatic waves of a puddle of mud driving your storytelling. The good news is that Atlas will not replace the beautiful, humane experiences you have had with better sci-fi stories, since it's so bland and forgettable, which are ironically also the correct adjectives for anything that AI pretends to create.

Smileys: Nothing stands out

Frowneys: Directing, Jennifer Lopez, score

In a deleted scene, Shepherd calls Smith one of the good ones.


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