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Artificial intelligence propaganda may seem like the plot of Brad Peyton’s sci-fi actioner Atlas, but against all odds, the result is not that sickening “Don’t praise the machine” ditty. Trying to imagine AI headlining a movie other than technology-driven horror stories such as M3GAN in this era of OpenAI’s unauthorised Scarlett Johansson cosplay, racist chatbots among other fantasies of creatively bankrupt Silicon Valley billionaires becomes increasingly difficult. The writers Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite know this survival flick out there in space well, which they meld with buddy-comedy banter while developing it as an analysis on AI collaboration. (Sort of like road trip humor meets Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade mixed with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.) It’s a brave move by Peyton where instead of being our enemies, ChatGPT’s offspring are our friends; however, he manages to avoid turning Atlas into one big joke unintentionally. (That doesn’t mean though that he doesn’t deal with the issues of AI threat towards many careers and its ecological implications.)

Jennifer Lopez stars as Atlas Shepherd who is an expert analyst for International Coalition Of Nations (ICN) in a near future dominated by Skynet-like robots. The onset was led by Harlan (Simu Liu), who is world’s first terrorist AI introduced through a news bombardment so aggressively dystopian it looks downright silly if you have ever seen a movie where an android goes rogue. Peyton quickly constructs his world, whisking us through a violent uprising; ICN counterattack succeeds; Harlan escapes to another planet; vows to finish what he started on Earth. Halfway through her life at thirty years old, Atlas joins an elite ICN squadron set on killing Harlan before he fulfills his threat.

For the first several minutes, Atlas feels like it repeats itself weirdly and explicity on depicting murderous robo-maids. Casca, Abraham Popoola’s mechanical assassin, crashes through a squad of ICN soldiers but then we get Colonel Elias Banks played by Sterling K. Brown whose insanely pro-AI position imbues the rest of the movie. The moment Peyton introduces “a safe two-way” consciousness shared by ICN Rangers and their Titanfall-esque mecha – ”ARC suits,” as the script calls them – Atlas begins espousing coexistence with regulated oversight. The introduction seems like any dystopia you already know about where mechs are scary, but that protectively link up with humans in an innocuous way.

Sure enough, despite her technophobia, Lopez finds herself in an ARC suit named Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan). During the rest of Atlas, Lopez is supposed to rebelliously fight against disembodied AIs trying to save her life. Against a recorded voice, they have great chemistry together; it’s almost like she’s talking to someone who understands him/her. In this film though Atlas starts out as a disheveled haired luddite barking madly at skies yet this journey shared with Smith is unexpectedly sentimental (one-half of this duo cannot feel emotions). Surprisingly, Smith manages to turn Atlas’ sarcastic dismissals into adorable short pauses while Lopez makes us see that she isn’t just some random character placed within those tiny ARC capsules for most of the film.

Atlas uses a lot of digital animation that is not any different from the excessive use of green screens in Netflix originals and is less distracting than usual. These feature ARCs flying in air while shooting Harlan’s defense droids, this particular moment make camera to revolve; it makes the robot-like costumes move across the screen smoothly. As she hands Atlas a coffee cup, Zoe, Colonel Banks’ ARC displays giddiness because she expects recognition for her effort like a daughter wanting her mother’s attention does. Its control center view from inside the ARCs gets right into its Jaeger fun-size details. Peyton’s outworldly landscapes are not particularly amazing or original – it isn’t as though you’re watching Star Wars for the first time or District 9 – but its visual composition is still more sharp than expected.

Titanfall has also been mentioned by Peyton as an influence and there are many similarities to its graphics and excitement throughout Atlas.

The supporting performances do what they can with Sardarian and Coleite’s cliché ridden script. Colonel Banks speaks with overblown confidence, tempting fate one more time by jinxing his so-called foolproof plan against Harlan’s hideout. Then there’s Harlan himself, a deceitful villain committed to genocide who could be likened to Skynet Trojan Horse (complete with Terminator Lite makeup effects and a T-1000 arm blade). Like every other killer replicant we have ever seen before, Popoola exudes dead-eyed vibes – although beyond originality issues this shall be deemed irrelevant. Everybody else in the movie is just there to get Atlas over her disdain for Smith especially Harlan who embodies today’s underdeveloped AI models that are rushed to market without safeguards.

Lopez keeps us engaged through all of this. An algorithmically driven streamer presenting a movie about human/AI cooperation seems destined to self-sabotage repeatedly but Jenny from the Block pitches Atlas as robust popcorn entertainment. While she sweats through the dangerous intensity of final boss battles set amidst pools of molten lava, laughs at how ironic her situation is, and brings levity with her discussions about baked goods with Smith. The script may be paper-thin and its themes are written in neon lights, but a film like this one that has Lopez on the dials can never lose anything.


Atlas does more than just shrug even though it doesn’t make any significant conclusion regarding pertinent and alarming debates about AI in contemporary society.? A futuristic action thriller overseen by Brad Peyton that often feels like a clone of other cautionary tales on AI – but these movies, shows, games, or books do not have Jennifer Lopez on their side. She carries the screen forward, trades barbs with software programs and makes it easy to believe that she is a hero hiding behind the windshield of a mech suit in front of an audience. This isn’t exactly the “Justice for AI!” fiasco it sounds like on paper for Atlas nor is it the next ground breaking science fiction masterpiece but mark them off for producing an entertainingly serviceable movie around something people talk about constantly.

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