The Rest of Us Shrugged


It seems like every few weeks or so NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). puts out yet another movie that grabs people’s attention for a few days. After that, though, once people have had a chance to actually watch the film, it quickly fades into the background, forgotten by everyone that (half) watched it. Such was the case with Damsel, the fantasy Netflix film from a few months ago that most people derided online (even if I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone said). Now we have another genre film, one that, much like Damsel, doesn’t really have a lot of new, original ideas, instead simply cobbling together a bunch of what other shows and movies have done. It takes all that and pushes out something that would seem to appeal to all… right up until it gets ignored once again.

Atlas is the kind of movie you’d make via algorithm or focus group. “What are good ideas we can feed into this movie producing machine,” some suit would say, and then all kinds of sci-fi tropes are put together. A future way against robots. Space rangers sent on a daring mission. A far away planet full of dangers. Mech suits and A.I. and a robotic helper for our heroine. They’re ideas pulled from a hat, mashed together to fill time and get our heroine from one end of the story to the other. Does any of it matter? Not really, not in the long run. The story is as generic and basic as it could be and, despite all the genre trappings, Atlas doesn’t have a single truly unique or necessary idea in its whole runtime.

Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) is an analyst for the International Coalition of Nations which… no, you know what? I have to stop. Normally I’d go into the story for this film but I can’t even address that until we look at that organization’s name. The International Coalition of Nations. It’s nations, in a coalition. Automatically that makes it “international”. It’s a stupid, half-baked, generic name, the kind of thing you’d think the writer put into the script as filler until they came up with something better. This shouldn’t have made the second draft of this script. It should have been changed because it’s so dreadfully dumb.

Anyway, Atlas works for the ICN as an analyst. She’s the foremost expert on the A.I. robots that, years earlier, launched a war against humanity, nearly wiping us out. The robotic leader, Harlan (Simu Liu), was built by Atlas’s mother, Val Shepherd (Lana Parrilla), but then one day he went crazy, taking control of the two-way A.I. connector that Val would wear, controlling Val and forcing her to kill herself. Atlas ran and has dedicated herself to fighting against the robots ever since.

In the years that followed the way, Harlan and his crew of robots escaped Earth for another planet and, ever since, the ICN has been working to track Harlan down so they can send a mission to kill him. Atlas gets them the key information, basically taking it from the robotic head of one of Harlan’s associates, and with that info the ICN knows that Harlan is on a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy. Atlas talks her way onto the mission, which is led by Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown), with her providing the necessary information they need to hunt the bots. But when the mission goes sideways, Atlas is left as the only one alive to find Harlan on this hostile planet and, somehow, stop whatever he’s planning. Teamed with her mech suit, the A.I. for which is named Smith (Gregory James Cohan), Atlas has to stop Harlan before the robot is able to wipe out humanity once and for all.

I hated Atlas, but not because it was a poorly directed or acted film. The actors are doing decent enough work for a film that really should have been a low-budget cheapie (at least until Netflix grabbed it and spent $100 Mil on the film). And while it’s not magnificently directed, with some spotty CGI and a couple of fight scenes that become incomprehensible late in the film, for the most part it’s a fine looking movie. The issues with this film are all in the story and, man, are they huge.

As I noted, you can look at the film and see all the influences for the movie clearly grafted together. They take the future robot war from TerminatorIs it a series about a future nuclear war and the survivors of the aftermath? Is it a series of chase movies set in the present day? Is it a series about time travel? That fact is that the Terminator series is all of those concepts. The mash-up of genres and ideas shouldn't work, but the films have proven adept at mixing into a heady series unlike any other., apply the life-like robots that can’t be trusted from Blade Runner, add in mechs that look like ED-209 from RoboCop and then give Smith a personality not only Baymax from Big Hero 6. Nothing about this film is original, top to bottom, which also means that once you see the first of the tropes come into play you can guess every plot point and story beat before they happen. Knock them all down like dominoes because this story is bereft of originality, beat-by-beat.

Worse, many of the things it sets up simply make no sense. Val, Harlan’s creator, seemingly builds the robot in her shed. Except she also mass-produces him? He gains access to her implant and, from there, is able to hack every single robot, and robotic interface, instantly? The movie doesn’t do a good job of illustrating for us how Harlan and his crew of robots came to be, how ingrained in society they became, and just how much damage they could actually do. It just says, “A.I. is bad,” (ironic when it feels like this story was written by A.I.) and then assumes that’s enough backstory to go around.

Meanwhile, humanity apparently has the ability to travel not just to the stars but to other galaxies. The Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 Mil lightyears away, a distance that, via conventional flight, would take longer than all of human existence (all the way back to the primates we came from). In the film, though, our crew of space rangers gets there in a matter of hours. And then communications from them are able to get back to Earth within the same amount of time. They can do all this but they’re worried about Harlan and a few other bots coming back to Earth to kill humanity. Why worry about that when they could travel to every single viable planet in the Milky Way (and, for that matter, every other galaxy in the universe considering how fast their space flight must be), creating a ton of homeworlds, more than Harlan could ever destroy.

Hell, Harlan’s entire plan is to kill most of humanity and take control of the rest of them because humans can’t be trusted to treat their planet with respect. If they could go to every habitable planet in the universe, though, that also would do the job of creating a sustainable ecosystem for humans. A few humans on each planet would take generations upon generations to build to the point where they could do damage to their planet… and then they could just send a bunch of the colonists off and do it again. Harlan’s plan, in essence, is dumb.

You know, like the rest of this stupid movie. At every turn I just hated everything about this film.

The only part I actually liked were the A.I. helper mechs. Smith is a fun enough character, voiced well by Cohan. I wish his whole story wasn’t so formulaic and basic (I wonder if Atlas, who distrusts A.I., is going to learn to trust Smith?), but at least the character is endearingly played. There really isn’t much to hold onto in this film, especially since Atlas is written as a shallow, annoying, idiotic character, but Smith does a good job of letting you like something or someone here so you can make it through the film.

Netflix films are generally regarded as terrible. Atlas is perfect evidence of why. Netflix can spend $100 Mil on a disaster of a film like this but it can’t get it together to do actual productions its fans really want (like a final season of GLOW or a second season of Teenage Bounty Hunters, or…) and you have to wonder why? They’re not just the biggest streaming service but also the biggest film studio at this point. Why does everything Netflix produces have to be so terrible?

Whatever the case, Atlas is bad. Skip it. Don’t go near it. Even when Netflix advertises it at the top of your feed, move past it. This painfully bad film is not worth your time.