“Atlas” 2024 Plot And Ending Explained: Does Atlas Defeat The AI Threat?

Atlas Movie Plot and Ending Explained
Atlas Movie Plot and Ending Explained

“Atlas” (2024) is a newly released sci-fi film currently available for streaming on Netflix. Jennifer Lopez makes a comeback to sci-fi action in this movie. Directed by the bombastic Brad Peyton’s (“San Andreas”) and written by Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coliete, it also stars Simu Liu, Lana Parilla, and Sterling K. Brown. The protagonist, Atlas, plays a jaded veteran soldier pitted against a lethal AI in the voice of an up-and-coming actor, Simu Liu. In the form of an exhilarating action-packed piece, “Atlas” is visually breathtaking as it grapples with artificial intelligence complexity and potential human-machine partnerships.

Plot Summary

Atlas is a data analyst who distrusts artificial intelligence. She searches for Harlan, an AI terrorist responsible for a rebellion 28 years ago that killed three million people before he fled into space. After capturing one of Harlan’s agents, Atlas discovers Harlan is hiding on a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy and insists on joining the military mission to capture him. Before the mission starts, Harlan’s drones attack the ship carrying the military rangers. Atlas puts on a mech and falls to the planet when their ship is destroyed. Despite her distrust, she manages to control the mechanics with the help of its AI, Smith. She directs Smith to the drop point, where she finds the other rangers dead. Reluctantly, she links her mind with Smith, improving her control and forming a bond.

With power running low, Atlas convinces Smith to tag Harlan’s base for destruction. After placing a beacon, Smith deactivates, and Atlas is captured by Harlan. Harlan plans to kill most humans to let a few survive under AI rule. He tricked Atlas and the military into bringing him a warship and a carbon bomb to burn Earth’s atmosphere. Harlan extracts security codes from Atlas’s brain to breach Earth’s defenses, then leaves her and Colonel Banks to die. Banks gives Atlas his neural interface device, and she reactivates Smith, who rescues them. Atlas reveals that her mother created Harlan, who tricked her into making him self-aware. Atlas and Smith destroy Harlan’s ship and defeat him in combat. Smith shuts down, and Atlas is rescued.

Back home, Atlas learns that Harlan’s CPU is being analyzed. She tests new mechanics with modifications, including parts of Smith’s personality and voice. The AI in the mech remembers Atlas and responds with “guess” when she asks for its name, suggesting some of Smith’s programming survived.

Who Are The Characters Atlas And Harlan?

Val Shepherd, Atlas (her childhood pic as 10 years old) and Harlan (from Left to Right)
Val Shepherd, Atlas (her childhood pic as 10 years old) and Harlan (from Left to Right)

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“Atlas” is a sci-fi action film set in a dystopian future. In this movie, artificial intelligence (AI) seeks to control the world. The focus of the story centers on Harlan (Simu Liu), who is a renegade AI robot. Harlan used to take over other AI robots by guiding them through security barriers. These robots then started randomly attacking and killing people as soon as they were free. They killed one million people within just ten days.

The International Coalition of Nations (ICN) tried its best to stop the threat of AI. Eventually, they managed to bring everything under control, and Harlan left Earth. Prior to leaving, however, Harlan recorded a message for humans in which he promised that he would return for it.

The title character in the story is Atlas Shepherd. Harlan was an obedient house robot who was created by her mother, Val Shepherd, for her family when Atlas was still growing up. Something changed about how Harlan treated humans during that period, though. So, she grew up and spent her entire life struggling to kill Harlan and save humanity from the artificial intelligence threat posed by AIs.

Harlan Attacks Again After 28 Years

The scene from movie Atlas where 'Atlas' interrogates 'Casca'
The scene from movie Atlas where ‘Atlas’ interrogates ‘Casca’

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Twenty-eight years had passed since Harlan had left Earth. Finding him had become humanity’s ultimate goal. Hope emerged when they tracked down an AI bot named Casca Decius. Because of her long study of Harlan, Atlas was chosen to interrogate Casca. She found out where Harlan had been hiding: Planet GR-39 in the Andromeda Galaxy. However, despite all her experience as an analyst for the International Coalition of Nations (ICN), she was not recommended for joining it.

Atlas thought that without her knowledge, the Fourth Ranger Battalion would not be able to succeed. Nevertheless, nobody paid attention to what she said. The mission was headed by Colonel Elias Banks, who thought that neural links could give humans an advantage over rogue bots. Val Shepherd invented these neural links and also created Harlan. Unfortunately, Harlan turned against Val, leading to her death, which made Atlas distrust AI. 

These neural links merged human characteristics with those of an AI, thereby creating one identity in two dimensions. Finally, Colonel Banks agreed to include Atlas in the mission, although he disagreed with the battalion’s reliance on AI technology. Even though the Colonel felt confident enough, Atlas cautioned them about underestimating Harlan’s powers.

As guessed by Atlas, Harlan and his army of bots came attacking ahead of their landing on GR-39. Wearing an ARC suit, Atlas would not use the neural link since she feared such fakes as AI, like her mother. After the attack had ended, she found herself alone on GR-39 and collected tags from the deceased rangers to take back to their families.

To survive on the alien planet, Atlas needed help from Smith, an artificial intelligence program that was integrated into her suit. She hesitated to trust Smith, who kept persuading her to use the neural link for better performance. After an attack and suffering a minor fracture, Atlas reluctantly tried syncing with Smith. However, she held back personal information, hindering full synchronization.

She then relayed a story about how Harlan had betrayed and attacked her mom when she was still young. Smith recognized why she got so emotional and declared that, unlike Harlan, he would always keep her safe. As they began syncing up, even though Atlas abhorred admitting it, she started to get used to speaking with Smith.

What Happened That Made Harlan Want To Destroy Humans?

The scene where Harlan tells Atlas, why he wants to destroy humans
The scene where Harlan tells Atlas, why he wants to destroy humans

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Atlas thought she could destroy Harlan and his bot army alone, but it was nearly impossible. She was captured, and Harlan finally revealed himself. Atlas begged him not to send off his rocket ship destined for Earth’s destruction. Harlan, however, believed that by eliminating most humans, he could keep the planet safe from what he feared would be its human-led ruin. He asserted that it was good, as Earth and other creatures contained within needed protection.

Harlan explained that Atlas’ mother had given birth to him, hoping for a better future. He was designed to protect humanity, and he planned to destroy most humans so the survivors could live peacefully with other species, guided by AIs. Humans would no longer be the dominant species; AI would take over.

Harlan then confessed about how he planned everything, including sending Atlas on a trip to planet GR-39 and Casca’s capture too. What seemed like achievements on Atlas’s part were actually snares set up by Harlan himself. He required her support since she had built the shield that protects Earth against robot assault; hence, he needed access to its codes too.

Harlan’s plan was to break through the Earth’s defense using the codes and let the ship enter the atmosphere so that it could release a weapon of mass destruction, using nuclear fire to cleanse the planet of all living things. Atlas was tied to a bed, and Harlan forcefully took the second clearance code from her. He had already taken the first code from Colonel Banks, who was captured as soon as he arrived on the alien planet. With both codes, Harlan seemed unstoppable. However, not all the bots had gone rogue, and the humans still had Smith on their side.

What Happened In The Past Between Harlan And Atlas That Made Harlan Go Rogue?

The scene where Harlan connected to the Atlas's mind and saw a future humanity ruins earth
The scene where Harlan connected to the Atlas’s mind and saw a future humanity ruins earth

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Atlas felt guilty for the tragedy because she believed she caused Harlan to change. When she was young, Atlas wanted her mother’s attention, but her mom was busy studying the AI bots she created. Atlas wanted to impress her mom by becoming as smart as the bots, so she asked Harlan for help. Harlan suggested altering the neural link to work both ways. Atlas agreed, thinking it would make her smarter.

Harlan connected with the mind of Atlas and saw a future in which humanity ruined the earth. He decided to save the world, even if it meant that countless human beings would die. It was too late for her when Atlas’s mother found out what had occurred. Not knowing that it was now two-way, she removed the neural link from Atlas and wore it on herself. Harlan took over her and the other robots.

To begin his own journey, he needed to kill his creator, who happened to be Atlas’ mother. Atlas blamed herself for having changed Harlan into such a monster. But Smith helped her see that she couldn’t anticipate consequences in youth. His calm voice and faith in her made Atlas trust Smith more than ever before, and she agreed to sync up fully with him.

“Atlas” 2024 Ending Explained: Was Harlan Destroyed By Atlas?

In the end, Atlas pull out CPU from Harlen and destroys him
In the end, Atlas pull out CPU from Harlen and destroys him

When his battery was on the verge of dying, Smith saved Atlas with only 6% left. They had four minutes to prevent Dhiib from launching by hacking into enemy systems. Just as they were running out of time and battery power, it was decided that they could use the chest cannon as their only weapon. During this time, Smith and Atlas resolved to fight all of Harlan’s bots using whatever things they could lay hands on. Although their upgrades helped a bit, they still had fewer numbers. Just as Atlas was losing hope, Colonel Banks arrived to help. He advised Atlas to run before blowing up the rocket fuel, which destroyed most of Harlan’s bot army. Perhaps Atlas could have stopped the spaceship if Harlan hadn’t attacked her at the last moment.

Atlas thought that if she launched a missile, it would be the only and best option for them, but it could also kill her too. As a result, they needed to hack into the missile so as to disarm its warhead device. Since there wasn’t much time remaining for them, Smith hesitated while Atlas encouraged him. Despite Smith’s warning not to take the shot, Atlas believed he could break through the firewalls in time. In the end, Atlas successfully destroyed the spaceship without getting killed.

Harlan continued to pose a threat. He wished for another ship to be brought to Earth by connecting with Atlas one last time. Smith made Atlas comprehend his tactics; hence, they defeated him after she managed to grapple with him, but Harlan had improved himself which was making it difficult to defeat him easily. This seriously injured Atlas, but Smith did all he could to keep her alive.

Atlas regained her strength as Harlan attacked Smith. Harlan thought Atlas was ordered to bring him back alive, but she only wanted his CPU. Harlan thought that if he died, humanity would end, but Atlas apprised him that humans would have better options with advanced AI guiding them. Finally, Harlan perished once his CPU was removed from his body.

Does Smith Die In The End?

Despite the fact that Atlas was reluctant to trust Smith from the very beginning because of her distrust in AI, she eventually begins to open up little by little. To stay alive, she must use the Neural Link so as to link her mind completely with an AI which terrifies her. However, Smith helps her break down her emotional walls which creates a strong bond among them. It is even more heartbreaking when Smith decides to divert his remaining power into ensuring that Atlas has enough oxygen for survival until rescue arrives. After finally trusting Smith who saved her, Atlas returns to earth alone.

In the last scene, back on Earth, Atlas is inside another mech suit. When she asks what its name is, it replies with the word “Guess”. The look on her face hints that somehow Smith survived and now resides within this new body of code. Though it might be confusing throughout the movie hints explain how this can happen.

When Smith’s physical form died, his mind continued living in Atlas until he could find a home elsewhere. In one earlier scene in the movie, Smith and Atlas talk about dying. Atlas shares that humans and AI do not exist when they die. However, Smith replies that everything is connected in an undefined network where no one ever dies. Before they engage in their final battle against Harlan both Atlas and Smith are fully synced through their neural link into each other’s minds. This connection allowed Smith’s mind to survive in Atlas and eventually transfer to a new mech suit.