Atlas summary and ending explained

In Atlas, a counterterrorism analyst must learn to trust AI again to capture a robot who betrayed her in the past. The film is now streaming on Netflix.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers

Plot summary

The film’s events take place in a world where humans are at war with AI robots who have turned terrorists. 

This happened after an AI robot named Harlan overrode his own and other AI robots’ programming. These robots then attacked humans and killed millions.

In response to this threat, humans formed a global organization called the International Coalition of Nations (ICN), which forced Harlan to flee the Earth.

Twenty-eight years later, humans, still looking for Harlan, finally manage to catch a close associate of his, Casca. 

Harlan was developed by an AI expert, Val Shepherd, and raised alongside her daughter, Atlas, before he turned into a terrorist. 

Although Atlas, now a leading analyst at the ICN, is considered emotionally unstable, General Boothe allows her to interrogate Casca.

Atlas manages to get Harlan’s location from Casca, leading to the ICN sending a battalion under the leadership of Colonel Elias Banks to capture Harlan.

Atlas fears that if the ICN agents try to capture Harlan instead of killing him, they will not return from their mission. 

To ease her fears, Elias shows her his ARC suit called Zoe. The ICN agents will be using the Neural Links invented by Atlas’ mother to sync their brains with their high-power AI suits.

Atlas deeply distrusts AI after what happened with Harlan, so she becomes even more wary when she hears about the use of Neural Links. 

She insists on going on the mission to the planet where Harlan has been hiding because she knows Harlan better than anyone. As Elias agrees with her reasoning, Boothe allows it.

Before the mission starts, Atlas keeps warning Elias about Harlan and his traps, but Elias is convinced that his squad will be able to take Harlan down. 

However, the squad is attacked by Harlan’s drones as soon as they reach their destination, leading Elias to put Atlas in an ARC suit to protect her.

Elias asks her to neuro-sync with her suit’s computer program, called Smith, but Atlas refuses to let an AI into her head. 

She somehow manages to survive the attack and gets Smith to take her to the drop point where Elias had asked her to meet, only to find the whole squad dead.

Atlas realizes that Harlan is creating his own robots when she is attacked by another Casca as well as other AI robots. 

While fighting Casca, Atlas finds herself injured and trapped in a sinkhole. The only way to make it out alive is to combine her analytical mind with Smith’s fighting capacity and data access by syncing with him. 

As Casca is still trying to find her, Atlas finally agrees to sync with Smith, but her lack of trust makes it impossible. 

Only when she trusts Smith enough to tell him that Harlan was like her brother and that he betrayed her trust is she able to sync with Smith, who promises to keep her safe. 

Atlas starts confiding in Smith from then on, and together, they defeat Casca. Instead of making her way to the rescue pod after that, Atlas decides to go to Harlan’s base. 

Believing that they will never get another chance like this one, Atlas decides to mark the location of Harlan’s base before returning to Earth. 

There, Atlas spots Dhiib, the battleship they brought from Earth to defeat Harlan. Along with Dhiib, Harlan has also taken possession of the carbon warhead capable of destroying half a planet. 

Atlas sends a message to Boothe to alert him, but the message is unclear. Additionally, Atlas is spotted by Harlan’s group, who then hacks into Smith and captures Atlas.

Ending explained:

Harlan’s plan

Harlan had predicted Atlas’ moves because he knows her as well as she knows him. He got Casca captured on Earth to lead Atlas to this planet. 

This was a trap all along to get Dhiib, the carbon warhead, and Atlas, who had designed Earth’s impenetrable defense system. 

Atlas finds out that Elias is alive. He was also captured by Harlan for the same purpose he wanted Atlas—to get the clearance codes to bypass Earth’s defenses. 

Harlan believes that he was made to protect humanity and that the only way to do that is to create a new future for them. 

He plans to use the carbon warhead to kill the vast majority of the human population, as humans are a threat to every other species and their own planet. 

The ones who will survive the attack will be guided by AI to peacefully coexist with other species. Harlan now has everything he needs to launch an attack on Earth.

Overcoming past guilt

Once he gets the codes, Harlan leaves Atlas and Elias, who barely have any oxygen left, to die. Elias then tells Atlas that ARC suits do not fully power down. 

He gives her his Neural Link and asks her to call Smith. However, Smith cannot override the restraint order put by Harlan’s group unless they sync completely.

Atlas then confesses to Smith and Elias that Harlan did not break his own programming twenty-eight years ago; Atlas had a hand in it. 

Atlas wanted to be more like him to get her mother’s attention. When she asked for Harlan’s help, he convinced her that it could be done by altering the Neural Link. 

Harlan needed a human’s command to do that, and Atlas gave the command. Harlan altered the link and made it so that it would share data both ways. 

It enabled him to control the motor skills of the human he was connected to. Atlas’ mother took the link from her and wore it herself, which gave Harlan control over her. 

While Atlas escaped and survived, her mother was killed by Harlan, who then brought all house robots under his control and became a terrorist.

Smith comforts Atlas, who still blames herself for the deaths of all the people who were killed by Harlan’s attack on humans. This results in them syncing completely. 

Smith then comes to Atlas and Elias’ aid. He tells Atlas that he hacked into Harlan’s system when Harlan’s group hacked into his own. 

Atlas and Smith acquire all the weapons that they can find to fight Harlan’s group. Elias fights alongside them.

As Atlas and Smith need to stop Harlan before he sends Dhiib to Earth, Elias asks them to leave and sacrifices his life to blow up the terrorists.

Atlas’ victory

Atlas and Smith try to stop Dhiib, but they are forced to fight Harlan first. Realizing that they are running out of time, Atlas decides to shoot down Dhiib. 

She trusts Smith to hack into the terrorists’ systems to deactivate the warheads in time, and Smith does not let her down. 

As Atlas foils Harlan’s plans, he now intends to get into her head and control her to call another battleship from Earth. This results in Harlan fighting Atlas.

With Smith’s help, Atlas manages to kill Harlan and takes his CPU. However, the fight destroys Atlas’ suit, leading to Smith disabling the Neural Link and deactivating himself to provide oxygen for Atlas. 

As Smith deactivates, Atlas grieves his loss and tells him about herself. She now trusts Smith, recognizing him as the only one who never let her down.

Atlas is then rescued and taken to Earth. Boothe visits her at her house to give her a plant that Smith had stored for her after she discovered it. 

After taking down Harlan, Atlas, who had always wanted to be an ICN ranger but never passed the exam, goes on to become a ranger. 

She has her new ARC suit modified. She no longer has difficulty syncing with it because Smith, the program she grew to trust, was installed in her suit.

Also Read: Atlas review: Underwhelming sci-fi drama fails to hold interest

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