Atlas (2024) Review: Despite Jennifer Lopez’s Committed Performance, This Big Budget Sci-Fi is Only Half the Fun

Arriving at a time when Jennifer Lopez had suffered a bad year so far with the double-whammy disappointment of her self-indulgent, overproduced vanity project of a musical film This Is Me… Now: A Love Story and the unremarkable ninth studio album “This Is Me… Now” and not to mention her rocky marriage with Ben Affleck, she definitely needs a hit in the big-budget gamble of Atlas. Reportedly costing US$100 million to make for which she also served as one of the producers, the movie marks the first time Lopez headlined in a sci-fi genre.

The title refers to Lopez’s character name, Atlas Shepherd, a whip-smart data analyst who loves quad Americano and can routinely beat her home’s virtual assistant in a chess game. Yes, the movie takes place in the future and we also learn that Atlas developed a phobia of AI.

The latter has to do with her past involving her deceased mother, Val (Lana Parilla) and Harlan (Simu Liu), an artificial intelligence that has gone rogue for becoming “the world’s first AI terrorist” after he took control of every AI in his attempt to eliminate mankind. Harlan and the rest of the AI have since fled to a remote planet and nearly three decades later since the cataclysmic event, General Jake Boothe (Mark Strong) enlists Atlas to join the military force ICN (short for International Coalition of Nations) led by Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown). The mission? Locate Harlan’s whereabouts and capture him at all costs.

What happens next is, well, if you watch enough sci-fi movies, you can more or less guess the plot. Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite’s screenplay is as predictable as it gets, milking the ideas from the likes of Aliens and Terminator. Originality is out of the question here, complete with a typical “AI gone rogue” story template. The first 30 minutes or so, however, does have its few pacey and entertaining moments. Brad Peyton, who is no stranger to directing big-budget movies seen in San Andreas and Rampage, does a decent job keeping me invested with his glossy, sit-back-and-just-enjoy-the-ride popcorn blockbuster ride. Although the CGI isn’t the most convincing and seamless visual effects work, it was still acceptable. He knows how to put together some thrilling action set pieces, particularly the scene when Atlas’ mecha suit a.k.a. ARC endured a mid-air ambush from Harlan’s sudden attack.

For a while there, it was fun and all watching the nervous Atlas forced to get used to operating the ARC from the inside. After she’s on her own with the ARC on a remote planet, the movie spends most of the time turning into a one-woman show between Lopez’s character and the ARC named Smith voiced by Gregory James Cohan. There’s a clear attempt at unlikely buddy-movie dynamics, going as far as slipping in some sardonic quips and banter typically seen in such a genre. Instead of something worthwhile that would establish Atlas and Smith’s bonding of sorts, it feels embarrassingly awkward. Peyton even attempts to give us a backstory surrounding Atlas’ hatred against the AI in the first place but it’s all perfunctorily told with the so-called emotional connection barely non-existent.

It also doesn’t help the movie grows tedious in the erratic second half. Casting Simu Liu in an antagonist role as the renegade AI, Harlan is a bold choice and I was hoping at least the movie would give him enough room to embrace the character wholeheartedly. Too bad Simu Liu’s Harlan turns out to be a bland, personality-free villain except for the final moment where he battles against Atlas in her ARC.

Speaking of Atlas, Lopez does her best in her lead performance but there’s only so much she can do, especially working with an underwritten screenplay. Gregory James Cohan has his moments voicing the matter-of-fact and at times, condescending Smith but Sterling K. Brown’s otherwise perfectly no-nonsense supporting role as Colonel Elias Banks doesn’t get enough screentime. Mark Strong, in the meantime, is looking like he’s sleepwalking throughout his minor role as General Jake Boothe.

Atlas is currently streaming on Netflix.