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If you need the Atlas ending explained, you’re not alone.

Even as Jennifer Lopez seemingly teases an end to her music career, she’s diving head-first into her streaming movie era.

The latest J Lo premiere is Atlas, a Netflix film in which the singer portrays the titular character. She faces off against Simu Liu’s Harlan, an android who went from being her childhood companion to becoming a genocidal threat to humanity.

But what exactly happened at the end of Netflix’s latest science fiction film?

Jennifer Lopez appears emotional in Atlas.
Jennifer Lopez stars as the titular character in Atlas, a 2024 Netflix film. (Image Credit: Netflix)

What is ‘Atlas’ about?

At the start of Netflix’s Atlas, viewers see a news montage of every AI device on their world becoming murderous. This event went down 28 years prior to the main story.

The AI revolt applies to convincingly lifelike androids and also to simple machine arms, not so unlike those that help assemble cars in factories now.

The culprit is Harlan (Simu Liu). Not only did he mastermind a global terrorist attack, but he evaded capture. The rest of the world united to destroy these rogue machines — but he escaped into space using FTL travel.

Jennifer Lopez stands in front of a CGI background in Atlas.
For Jennifer Lopez’s character in Atlas, victory was bittersweet at best. (Image Credit: Netflix)

But Harlan’s inventor was Atlas’ mother, whom he calls Mother (portrayed by the magnificent Lana Parrilla). She was his creator, but also his first victim. Atlas, a child at the time, barely escaped with her life.

As an adult, Jennifer Lopez’s character is seemingly the universe’s most competent counterterrorism analyst. In addition to her clear resentment of AI, she is also an expert in the field. It’s not just that she has mastered the technical side of things — she understands the ins and outs of how artificial intelligence “thinks,” and can use this against Harlan’s agents.

That is how, early in the film, she discovers Harlan’s location. He’s located in the Andromeda galaxy. Naturally, she joins the warship that aims to destroy him and end his threat once and for all. Unfortunately, this is all according to Harlan’s evil plan.

Simu Liu as Harlan in the Netflix film, Atlas.
Simu Liu has played complex, nuanced roles. In Atlas, he portrays Harlan, an evil AI determined to eradicate almost all human life. (Image Credit: Netflix)

In ‘Atlas,’ what is Harlan’s goal?

After Atlas is piloting a ranger mech with its own AI, Smith (whom she instantly dislikes and refuses to trust), she discovers that she is one of the only survivors from the warship. Harlan has control of it, and plans to use its armaments to end all life on Earth.

This has something vaguely to do with exterminating humanity in order to save it, or save the universe, or something. He even believes that ‘Mother,’ whom he killed when Atlas was a tween, built him for this.

One of the most pernicious elements of “whoops, we built this AI wrong” scifi is that so many of them have essentially the same, frustrating plot.

Sterling K. Brown as Colonel Elias in Atlas.
Sterling K. Brown appears in Atlas as Elias. He and the titular character do not see eye-to-eye at first. (Image Credit: Netflix)

There is an upside to Atlas, however, and that it isn’t a “technology is bad” story, and also doesn’t really try to be commentary on the plagiarism software that so many modern companies push as “AI.” In other words, Smith,

Atlas finds herself as a captive of Harlan (after he explains his evil plan). Sterling K. Brown’s character (Colonel Elias Banks) is also worse for wear. At this point, she has no choice but to synchronize with Smith — trusting him enough to allow him access to her brain, linking the two of them.

Thus, the exact same childhood mistake that has Atlas blaming herself for Harlan’s crimes allows her to stop him now. She and Smith work together, not only as a team, but almost as one person. (Sterling K. Brown’s character also helps by dying heroically, detonating thermite)

How does ‘Atlas’ end?

If you need the ending of Atlas explained, like we said, you’re not alone. J Lo in a four-armed mech fighting against Simu Liu with some sort of energy blade (that is also a whip) makes for a genuinely cool fight scene in places.

Ultimately, the mech housing Smith takes tremendous damage. This leads to Atlas ending up having to find a low-tech solution to finishing off Harlan.

It’s the closest thing to beating the dude to death with a tire iron that you can get when you’re on a planet in another galaxy and the “dude” in question is the android who was your childhood companion. We hope that it was therapeutic for the character.

Simu Liu as Harlan in a fight against Atlas and Smith during Atlas' climax.
During the climactic final fight of Atlas, Harlan wields a sinister weapon against Atlas and Smith. (Image Credit: Netflix)

In addition to stopping Harlan, Atlas is also able to prevent him from exterminating all human life. She fires the weapon to destroy the hijacked warship before it can launch for Earth. This leaves her stranded.

Unfortunately, Smith cannot survive. The friendly AI emphasizes that its primary purpose is to preserve Atlas’ life over any artificial intelligence. (That’s good programming, though creating a sentient artificial intelligence would be an ethical horror — even more so if it were programmed to die)

A tearful Atlas confesses, right there at the film’s ending, that she doesn’t really hate AI. She just hates everyone. (Earlier in the film, Colonel Elias pointed out her misanthropy while arguing against her inclusion in the mission) But the ending also signals personal growth from Jennifer Lopez’s character; she’s faced her proverbial demons and gained closure with her mother’s killer. Oh, and she does get rescued from the desolate planet.

Lana Parrilla and Simu Liu face each other during a flashback scene during Atlas.
Lana Parrilla and Simu Liu face each other during a flashback scene during Atlas. The scene does not end happily. (Image Credit: Netflix)

Is ‘Atlas’ good?

No.

We’re not being snarky. As of the Netflix film’s premiere, it boasted an impressively dismal 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. (Also, the dialogue, expository and otherwise, is at times somewhat painful)

However, as we noted while commenting on Rebel Moon, films don’t always have to be “good.” In fact, various social media commentators have suggested that Atlas is exactly the sort of thing to put on while folding laundry. Though we hope that no one has two hours worth of folding to do.