AI-driven, but lacks intelligence : The Tribune India

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AI-driven, but lacks intelligence

AI-driven, but lacks intelligence

Jennifer Lopez-starrer does not feel intelligent or interesting.

Film: Atlas

Director: Brad Peyton

Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Simu Liu, Sterling K Brown, Gregory James Cohan, Mark Strong and Abraham Popoola

Nonika Singh

AI as a threat to mankind isn’t a novel concept. More than one Hollywood actioner has walked this path and often made for reasonable entertainers, if not an in-depth and incisive study. Only, what seemed like sci-fi a few years ago is a tangible possibility today. After all, AI is growing its sharp fangs of intelligence by the minute. Yet, Jennifer Lopez-starrer ‘Atlas’ does not feel fantastically intelligent or even futuristically interesting.

To be honest and fair, it begins well. Harlan, we learn, is the first AI terrorist the world has seen. He wants to eliminate humanity and wreaks havoc. Simu Liu as Harlan looks sufficiently menacing and suitably artificial. But before Harlan succeeds in ‘mission extermination’, he is forced to flee. Only, he fulfils his promise, ‘I will finish what I started.’

Twenty-eight years later, another AI terrorist, Casca Decius (Abraham Popoola), is captured on earth. In walks Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez in the titular role), a top artificial intelligence analyst. She gets into the head of this bot and finds the exact location of Harlan, which is the G 39 Andromeda galaxy.

A combat team with well-synced mech-suits under Colonel Elias Banks (a sprightly Sterling K Brown) is put in place to get Harlan alive. Atlas warns against it. And why should they listen to her? Because she is the ultimate expert on Harlan, reasons for which unfold as we go along in our search for him. The backstory that Atlas and Harlan share has a dash of emotion, a tinge of sibling jealousy and a mother. Lana Parrilla as Val Shepherd is the one who created Harlan. On paper, while this emotive angle might have sounded intriguing, but as it unfurls on our screens, there isn’t much to root or feel for.

Besides, despite the lavish scale on which the sci-fi actioner has been mounted, there is nothing spectacular about the so-called spectacles. There is no adrenaline rush either.

As the protagonist Atlas and antagonist Harlan engage in a long duel, we know the final outcome. Once the space ship is ambushed by Harlan’s soldiers and Atlas is left to her own devices and her AI ally Smith, there is little to grab your attention. Special effects don’t make the offering any more special than the insipid writing, which lacks even occasional bright sparks. The banter between Atlas and Smith, despite the profound talk about whether AI has a soul and everything is alive, is rather mediocre.

Harlan going rogue has the instilled distrust of AI in Atlas. Yet, she continues to live in an AI-enabled home, even plays chess with simulated versions of an opponent. One could argue that a world without AI is next to impossible even now, let alone in the future. Even Harlan tells Atlas that she has prevailed over him thanks to the ones like him.

Indeed, the makers are not anti-AI, even if one has gone rogue. Atlas’ rediscovery of trust (in AI) through her saviour, ‘I am computer programme Smith’, is supposedly the emotional core of the film. But this attempt at emotional connect is no more than perfunctory. Clearly, this Atlas doesn’t move and can easily be shrugged away.

Smith might have offered Atlas ‘a lollipop for being a good patient’, but there is none for being a good audience. Unless your ‘coping mechanism’ to suffer a rerun of similar actioners borders on the insanely tolerant spectrum, ‘Atlas’ is barely watchable.

‘AI is capable of exponential learning’; unquestionably, but certainly, not our makers obsessing over AI-driven films. Streaming on Netflix, even the two-hour runtime pans out as being rather long.