Directed by Brad Payton (known for movies like Journey to the Mysterious Island, and San Andreas), Netflix’s Atlas (2024) is yet another cringe fest that puts Jennifer Lopez on square ground with an AI terrorist wishing to destroy the earth. Costarring Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown, and Mark Strong, the sci-fi actioner doesn’t have a single redeeming quality and goes down hard on unimaginative CGI spectacle that doesn’t just look ugly but feels ugly too. Atlas features one of the worst JLO performances of all time by making you sit through 2 hours of relentless, irritating, tearless crying.

Anyway, this article is not meant to critique the film; you can check that out here. I will instead dive into the plot and its stupid twists in detail, briefly discussing what the ending means for the film. Please be aware of spoilers.

Atlas (2024) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

The world is under severe threat as an AI terrorist named Harlan has overridden all possible protocols that were meant to keep artificial intelligence under the control of humans. Harlan and his army have killed almost 1 million people, with the threat growing more and more aggressive as time passes. We learn that Harlan was first sanctioned by Shepherd Robotics under the guidance of Val Shepherd, who raised Harlan along with her daughter Atlas. To combat the threat, a team named the ICN (the International Coalition of Nations) has been formed, which is able to temporarily put away Harlan, who escapes to a different planet with a promise to return.

28 years have passed since then, and the ICN has been able to neutralize most of the threat that was caused by the AIs; however, one of Harlan’s subsidiaries, Casca (Abraham Popoola), is discovered in a terrorist sleeper cell and captured. General Jake Boothe (Mark Strong) calls in Atlas (Jennifer Lopez) – the same girl Harlan grew up with and who is now helping Shepherd Robotics and ICN as an analyst to keep things in check. We learn that she is impulsive and outright from Col. Elias Banks (Sterling K Brown), but Boothe thinks that only she can get into Casca’s mind and understand what Harlan plans to do next. He is right about this as Atlas, using her unconventional ways, is able to retrieve Harlan’s location from within Casca’s code.

However, when she insists that she would like to go on the mission to retrieve and kill Harlan, Boothe tells her that their priorities have changed, and now they want him alive in order to find the flaw that led to the rebellion. Atlas is not happy because she knows that Harlan, who was built by her mother, was designed to think one step ahead of humans and can not be taken alive. This is when Banks ensures that they will be using neural links to connect soldiers and AIs to bring Harlan down. The neural links idea was that of Atlas’ mother, and even though she is not convinced she begs Boothe to allow her on the mission. After a little convincing, Banks decides to allow Atlas to come on board.

Atlas (2024) Movie Ending Explained
Atlas. (L to R) Abraham Popoola as Casca and Simu Liu as Harlan in Atlas. Cr. Ana Carballosa/Netflix ©2024

The team then heads out to GR – 39 Andromeda galaxy, the planet where Harlan has been hiding for all these years. Atlas gives a very pessimistic briefing to the crew about the neural link that they will be using with their bots. She doesn’t trust technology anymore and asks them to be fully aware of the machines going against them at any point in time. However, Banks doesn’t take her warnings seriously and readies his team to deploy on the planet. This is when an ambush is thrown at them, possibly by Harlan, who is obviously one step ahead of them. All the soldiers of the ICN get into their neural link pods and dive out of their battleship. Atlas is also reluctantly put into one of the pods as she free falls down to the planet’s atmosphere.

When she wakes up from the impact, the pod’s AI introduces himself as Smith, but Atlas, who has trust issues, decides not to use the neural link and instead works on it manually. With Smith’s help, she is able to walk her way to where the rescue pod is currently stationed, but on their way there, she finds that a lot of her fellow crew members have been killed. Before she can think any further, Harlan’s army reaches the location and Atlas is forced to reluctantly battle them and even use the only ion bomb that the pod possesses.

Why does Atlas decide to finally use the neural link?

Using the ion bomb creates a sinkhole that sucks Atlas along with the pod inside. Unable to find a way out with another version of Casca on the lookout, Atlas decides to finally use the neural link to sync with Smith. Since she is emotionally shut off and because she had not initiated the sync, it becomes difficult for the process to happen. However, after losing her initial inhibitions and allowing Smith to dive into her memories, the two of them finally get on the same page. This is where Atlas also tells Smith that Harlan is like a brother to him because her mother made him and brought them up together.

After the sync is done, Atlas is able to come back to the surface and kill Casca yet again. For a moment, Atlas’s mind wanders off, and Smith tries to take control of her. After her distrust in him is washed away, the two of them decide to geo-tag Harlan’s base before going to the rescue pod. When she does each of the facilities that Halan had created after fleeing Earth, she sees that he has their battleship in his possession, and his associates are planning to use the warhead to attack humans. This prompts her to get close but since Harlan is cleverer than them, he had already anticipated Atlas’ arrival, capturing her along with Smith.

What was Harlan’s plan all along?

This is when Harlan finally shows up and tells Atlas that he plans to wipe out half of the human population in order to reset their race in the right manner. Since he was designed to cater to the humans, he thinks that this is the only way to fix things or else they will destroy themselves. He then reveals that even though Atlas thought that she was coming to get him, it was his plan to get her there. Planting Casca and allowing Atlas to examine him and find his location were all part of his bigger plan to destroy the earth. He wanted the battleship, the carbon warhead and Atlas’ expertise to undo the shield that protects the earth.

After telling his plan to Atlas, he throws her away to the dungeon where Banks is also chained. He has the two of them captured because entering the earth’s atmosphere would need two ICN clearance codes, which he now has in his possession. When he leaves the two of them, Atlas tells Banks that Smith is powered down but in the same vicinity. Banks shares his neural link with her and asks her to get Smith to power up remotely. While she is able to send a signal to him, she is unable to bypass him because the two of them haven’t been synced to 100%.

What is Atlas guilty about?

Smith tells Atlas that he will only be able to function properly when she unloads her truth and accepts it to be a part of her. So, Atlas finally comes up with the truth and shares how her insecurity as her mother’s child was the reason Harlan caused genocide. While in the testing phase of her neural link, a jealous young Atlas used it to help win her mother’s approval, only for Harlan to look into her future, which is full of destruction that will be caused due to climate change and other catastrophic human-made disasters. This caused Harlan to go against his own programming and kill his creator, i.e., Dr. Shepherd – Atlas’ mother.

Atlas (2024) Movie Ending Explained
Atlas. Sterling K. Brown as Colonel Banks in Atlas. Cr. Beth Dubber/Netflix ©2024.

Atlas confesses that she is guilty of letting Harlan upload the code that caused all the destruction. She is also guilty about getting her mother and over three million people killed. Smith assures her that it is not her fault and she needs to forgive herself for it. This trust that she allows to build between the two of them gives Smith the leavy to sync up. When they are 100% synced up, he uncuffs her, helps both Banks and her with respirators, and then they armor themselves with whatever is in the vicinity.

Atlas and Smith then fight their way through the entire caravan of AI soldiers, with Banks having to sacrifice himself in order for them to escape. They reach the battleship just in the nick of time, but Harlan has already launched it. Atlas then trusts herself and the synced energy with her new friend Smith to shoot up to the moving battleship while he is busy hacking the warhead. The shot destroys the ship then and there, making Harlan, who is now the only one alive in his army, extremely angry.

Atlas (2024) Movie Ending Explained:

Smith pushes Atlas to run away to the escape pod before his battery dies, but Harlan comes in their way and overpowers them. Since he is extremely fast, he cuts through Smith’s exterior left and right before bringing him to the ground. Smith, who is on his last breath, takes an injured Atlas out of his system while Harlan is busy trying to get to his receptors in order to destroy him. Atlas knew that the only way to beat him would be to do something unexpected. So, when he is busy trying to bring Smith down by dislodging his system, she sneaks up on him and kills him.

Does Smith die?

However, Smith, who is running really low on battery and is about to live his last few moments, puts Atlas first and overrides her orders, letting her go to the rescue pod without him. Atlas finally caves in and shares how meeting him has made her trust in AIs and humans in general, so she is thankful to him for that. It feels like she is finally sharing her feelings of love with another being other than herself. After a brief interaction, Smith bids Atlas goodbye by calling her a ranger (something that she always wanted to be) and shuts down. Consequently, Boothe sends in his troops to get her after he intercepts her SOS call that was made when she landed on the planet.

The ending of Atlas (2024) shows that she has now been promoted to the post of a ranger as Boothe hands her a token of appreciation in the form of the plant that she and Smith named ‘Planty’ while bonding on the mission. The final sequence shows her getting into a fighting pod and switching to the enhanced version of the AIs fitted into the suits. The AI voice sounds eerily similar to that of Smith’s and when he welcomes her with her trademark sarcasm, we get to know that Smith is not dead and he and Atlas have more adventures to partake in.

Read More: Atlas: Cast & Characters Explained, Plot, Release Date & Time, Where to Watch, Trailer & Other Details


Atlas (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Atlas (2024) Movie Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown, Mark Strong
Atlas (2024) Movie Genre: Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure | Runtime: 1h 58m
Where to watch Atlas

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