Atlas ending explained: does Atlas stop Harlan?

Jennifer Lopez in Atlas
Atlas ending explained: does Atlas stop Harlan? (Image credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix)

Atlas stars Jennifer Lopez as a data analyst who must face her fears to save mankind during an intergalactic mission when an AI robot goes rogue and threatens to destroy the planet.

The movie begins as the world is on the brink of collapse after robot warrior Harlan (Simu Liu) launched an AI terrorist attack across the globe with millions of casualties.

Harlan was developed at Shepherd Robotics and raised by AI expert Val Shepherd (Lana Parrilla) and her ten year old daughter Atlas with the intention to help us improve life on Earth. However, the renegade robot abandoned his purpose and is now responsible for overriding all bot programming.

To combat the AI threat, the government has formed The International Coalition of Nations and are embroiled in an all-out war with the AI bots.

Harlan has fled Earth after sustaining significant losses and leaves behind a message for Earth promising to come back and finish what he's started.

28 years later

After a hefty battle, the ICN soldiers capture Casca Vix (Abraham Popoola), a powerful AI terrorist and Harlan's associate who was left behind on Earth. In Los Angeles, brilliant but antisocial counter-terrorism analyst Atlas has been tirelessly working to protect Earth from Harlan. 

General Boothe (Mark Strong) recruits Atlas to find out the location of Harlan from Casca. She successfully manages to interrogate the bot and discovers that Harlan is on GR-39, Andromeda Planet, before killing Casca after he makes cruel comments about her childhood and late mother.

It's not long before Atlas is launched into orbit to defeat Harlan on GR-39 along with commanding officer Colonel Banks (Sterling K. Brown). But throughout her time on the mission, she shows deep distrust towards the Neural Link technology her mother created to connect humans and AI.

Atlas' warnings surrounding Harlan are ignored by the soldiers and Colonel Banks. However, their mission goes awry when the Battleship Dhiib is suddenly attacked by Harlan. Atlas manages to survive the ambush, but she is now stranded on the deserted planet.

Jennifer Lopez as Atlas inside an AI machine.

Atlas forms an alliance with ARC robot suit Smith. (Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix © 2024)

She's forced to confront her fear of AI when she has to take control of a computer program called Smith, an ARC nine suit that the rangers use to fight AI bots. The only problem is that Smith requires a Neural Link to connect to Atlas, and she refuses to comply.

Smith is the only way for Atlas to reach the rescue pod and other survivors, but her hopes are shattered when she discovers that the rangers have been killed by Harlan. However, Colonel Banks' body is nowhere to be seen after they find his damaged ARC suit Zoe.

After defeating six AI robots, including Casca, a desperate Atlas is nearly at breaking point and realizes that the only way to save humanity is by trusting her enemy, AI.

With the analyst-turned-ranger fighting for the future of mankind, does Atlas stop Harlan? Here's what happens at the end of Atlas...

Atlas ending explained: does Atlas stop Harlan?

Simu Liu as Harlan in Atlas.

Simu Liu as Harlan. (Image credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix)

Atlas learns that the only way to survive is by using the Neural Link to sync with Smith and become a single entity so they can use 100% of their capabilities. Meanwhile, Colonel Banks is being held captive and tortured by Harlan.

Atlas kills Casca again after he survived the previous attack and she continues to be haunted by the memories of Harlan, who was created by her mother and supposed to protect her. 

While Smith struggles to connect with Atlas and fully sync, they reach Harlan's compound where he has taken the warhead from the Dhiib. General Boothe receives Atlas' transmission and reveals that if Harlan gets his hands on the carbon warheads, he can destroy half of Earth.

Harlan hacks into Smith and shuts him down, before Atlas is taken by Casca. She soon comes face-to-face with her "brother" Harlan, who still loves her and their mother after all these years. However, his love for Atlas isn't enough to stop his plan of destroying Earth because humans threaten every other species.

Harlan believes he is created to protect humanity and that the survivors will have a peaceful coexistence led by their AI counterparts. Atlas realizes that Harlan orchestrated the whole mission and lured her there so he could use her to get the clearance codes to bypass Earth's defense system.

Harlan tortures Atlas for the one remaining code, but when he sees that she has five minutes of oxygen left, Harlan leaves her to die. It seems as though all hope has been lost, until Colonel Banks, who is on the brink of death, wakes up and gives her his Neural Link to call Smith.

Smith is incapacitated and Atlas can only override the restraint code if they achieve 100% sync. In order to fully sync, Atlas' emotional trauma and secrets are laid bare, as she reveals that she made Harlan reprogram the Neural Link to make her better as she grew jealous of how much attention he got from her mother.

A still from Atlas on Netflix.

Atlas becomes stranded on GR-39. (Image credit: Netflix)

This allowed Harlan to take complete control over his mother's motor skills and kill her, while Atlas barely made it out alive.

Atlas eventually allows Smith into her mind and they become one. With the help of Colonel Banks, Atlas blows up the base, but her next foe is Harlan. Smith manages to deactivate the missile, allowing Atlas to destroy it. However, the explosion starts to destroy the planet and Atlas attempts to flee to the rescue pod.

She's stopped by Harlan and they become embroiled in a vicious fight as the planet is ablaze. After Harlan targets Smith's fusion reactor, Atlas' heart stops and Smith desperately tries to resuscitate her while Harlan attacks him.

Harlan overcomes Smith by stabbing his fusion reactor, but in a surprising turn of events, Atlas attacks Harlan from behind and kills him, before taking his CPU.

Smith is shutting down after Harlan damaged his fusion reactor and Atlas is devastated when he tells her that he can't come with her. Determined to protect his ranger, Smith uses his remaining energy to give Atlas an oxygen supply to her mask so she can get to the rescue pod. In return, Atlas does what Smith desperately wanted her to do all along and opens up to him about herself.

Atlas is rescued by ICN soldiers and they have started mapping Harlan's CPU back home. General Boothe visits her and gives her the plant she called "Planty" from GR-39, which they found in the remains of Smith.

At the end of the movie, Atlas is now a ranger and has modified a new series ten ARC robot. She climbs inside and the familiar voice of Smith plays out. As she launches the ARC initiation module, the machine already knows everything about her.

"What's your name?" she asks.

"Guess," he says.

Atlas is available to watch globally on Netflix now.

Grace Morris
Staff Writer

Grace was a digital writer with, and she now writes for our sister site TechRadar. She graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in 2020 with a degree in Writing and Film Studies, which only made her love for creative writing, film and TV grow stronger.

You'll usually find her watching the drama unfold in the latest reality series or much-loved UK soaps (usually with chocolate by her side!). She's an expert in EastEnders, Emmerdale, Coronation Street and everything reality-related from Selling Sunset and Married At First Sight UK to 90 Day Fiancé UK. Plus Netflix megahit Virgin River!

Grace also likes to explore new places with her friends and family and, of course, watch and read about the latest films and TV series.