In Defense Of Jennifer Lopez And 'Atlas'

I didn't write a review of the Netflix original film Atlas when it premiered back on May 24th for a couple of reasons.

First, Netflix didn't provide me with a screener, and given that there were likely to be a lot of reviews of the Jennifer Lopez action film popping up once it debuted, I assumed my late review would just be lost amongst all the competing links from other outlets.

But as importantly to me, I am a sucker for a well-made action film. I am willing to suspend a lot of disbelief if I can lose myself in a movie with lots of over-the-top action, a minimal amount of universe-building, and some solid acting.

I am someone who has joyfully watched the Battleship movie at least a dozen times, so I can appreciate a film that straddles the line between trash and adrenaline-filled bliss. An ideal action film washes over me like a slightly choppy tropical wave on a sunny afternoon. It is a rare time when I can watch something just for me and I am fine just enjoying the moment without having to think about what I am going to say when I review it.

Based on the trailer, I was looking forward to seeing Atlas. The science fiction elements looked fun and I may be one of the few people in the world who appreciates Jennifer Lopez more for her acting than her music. She's had hit records and a long and successful music career. But her music never really connected with me and while I don't dislike it, I've never gone out of my way to experience it, either. Her music has an emotional distance to it that always feels as if Lopez's desire for control doesn't allow her to connect with the audience in the way I prefer.

But I have long been a fan of Lopez's acting, especially her more action-oriented titles. From early roles such as Anaconda and Out Of Sight to the recent (and underrated) Netflix film The Mother, I have always appreciated her willingness to play against type. She is obviously beautiful and in peak physical condition. But she seems to embrace roles that frame her as an unlikeable and an almost unappealing lost soul. And those roles don't offer much in the way of redemption by the end of the film. At best, when the lights come up, her character has evolved into someone who might be more self-aware, but only slightly less of a dour crank.

In Atlas, Lopez plays Atlas Shepherd, a counter-terrorism expert living in a world that remains in a pitched battle with sentient androids. Shepard is the mix of action tropes that you find in the best of the films in this genre. She has no relationships and is unpleasant to the point where I suspect she invites some thoughts of a friendly fire incident. But she is also someone with a unique set of skills that of course prove to be of vast importance to the future of humanity.

The backstory of the film is pretty straightforward: about 30 years ago an android named Harlan (played by Simu Liu) went rogue and attempted to destroy humanity before fleeing with his allies to space. But now there are signs he plans to return and Shepard may be the best person to stop him. She has a strong distrust in AI (for reasons that you know will be revealed later), but of course, during the attack on Harlan's base planet, Shepard's only chance at survival is to sync her mind with "Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan)," the artificial intelligence that runs the massive bad-ass of a fighting robot suit that is the only weapon left to her.

The reviews of Atlas have been pretty brutal, with complaints ranging from Lopez's alleged lack of ambition with her roles to the film's relentless willingness to embrace every turn and trope you'd expect to find in a modern-day action film with this premise.

But what critics miss is that tropes are tropes for a reason. Familiar plot twists are recognizable because they work and in the right hands viewers can simultaneously recognize the story points while also getting lost in the overall production. 

And losing yourself in Atlas is easy to do. The directing from Brad Payton is sparse and fluid in a way that delivers the action without getting lost in showing off. And Lopez provides another believable action performance, pushing herself to be almost but not quite over the top in precisely the way a film like this needs in order to work.

I'm not arguing that Atlas is an award-winning production. But it is a fun, entertaining film that delivers just what the trailer promises. It's Jennifer Lopez doing what she does best: kicking ass while being as personally unpleasant as possible.

Atlas is now streaming globally on Netflix.