‘Atlas’ Review: A.I. Shrugged

After 28 years of peering nervously at the skies, the I.C.N. captures an A.I. bot known to be associated with Harlan. Something is afoot. A scientist named Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) is called in as the world’s leading expert on Harlan — in part because her mother, Val Shepherd, the founder of Shepherd Robotics, created Harlan and raised him alongside Atlas. At the request of Gen. Jake Boothe (Mark Strong), Atlas boards a spacecraft commanded by Col. Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown), headed for the planet where they’ve discovered Harlan has been hiding out.

You can tell from these names that “Atlas,” which Peyton directed from a script by Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite, is highly referential. (Or, perhaps, derivative.) Harlan shares a name with Harlan Ellison, the eminent speculative fiction author. Atlas is bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders; Lopez, who was also a producer on the movie, flings herself into the role with abandon, the kind of performance that’s especially impressive given that she’s largely by herself throughout. Her character’s last name, Shepherd, seems both metaphorical and maybe a link to a beloved character from the sci-fi show “Firefly.” I could keep digging, but you get the idea. At times “Atlas” feels like pure pastiche, and it looks, in a fashion we’re getting used to seeing on the streamers, kind of cheap, dark, plasticky and fake, particularly in the big action sequences. Science fiction often earns its place in memory by envisioning something new and startling — but with “Atlas,” we’ve seen it all before.

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