If you want to stay up to date with the latest funky memes and social media trends then you need to see M3GAN (which stands for Model 3 Generative Android). For better or worse, it is a film that feels designed to immediately inject itself right into the heart of popular culture. It’s also another film that feels strangely in line with some major blockbusters from last year, riffing on a theme that has started to become more and more important to film-makers who have seen their medium constantly threatened by videogames, new tech that makes it easier for everyone to be able to make their own movies, and VR, among other things. But, first and foremost, it’s basically a “killer doll” film.
When her parents die in a tragic accident, young Cady (Violet McGraw) is put in the care of her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams). Gemma has a busy workload, tasked by her boss to make a cheaper, but just as popular, version of their hit toy, which is basically a more advanced type of Furby. On the down low, Gemma and her team have also been working on M3GAN (and, yes, I will write it out in that form every time I mention her name), a “toy” that could sell at a much more expensive price point, but would also be THE toy that every household would want. Struggling to balance her work time and her responsibility to Cady, Gemma decides to pair her niece up with M3GAN. The android is designed to be comforting and supportive, and will help children learn as they play, but Gemma immediately starts to use it as a substitute for her own presence. M3GAN will keep Cady safe, but she starts to adjust her parameters as she realises how many different people may threaten to break the strong bond between them. There’s gonna be some killin’.
Directed by Gerard Johnstone (only his second feature after his horror comedy debut, Housebound), and written by Akela Cooper (who previously helped to get the madness of Malignant onscreen), this is a strange blend of sci-fi, horror, and black comedy that feels like it could have leaned further into any one of those elements, but may have been kept in a more centralized position by the likes of Jason Blum and James Wan (two people who, love or hate them, know how to turn a movie into a big hit). I wasn’t sure how to take things in the first half, the plotting and dialogue aren’t great, and every set-up is blindingly obvious, but I was won round by about the halfway mark. Whatever the genre blend is for any scene in the second half of the movie, the emphasis is on fun.
Williams and McGraw are okay, but it’s hard to judge them fairly when the script treats them so poorly. They are secondary characters, as the title would suggest, and not enough is done to make viewers fully invest in them. Amie Donald performs the physical side of M3GAN, while Jenna Davis provides the voice, and these two are the best performers in the movie, bringing to life a creation that is realistic and unnerving, even before she becomes a threat to others. Ronny Chieng is a decent enough boss who the film-makers want us to view as a potential villain, Brian Jordan Alvarez and Jen Van Epps are two work colleagues who help to build and test M3GAN, and a few other people appear in roles that set them up as obvious potential victims.
A good soundtrack and clean visuals, up until the grand finale anyway, as well as a good selection of special effects, also help to make this a decent watch. It could have been trimmed down a bit, and it certainly could have gone even wilder with the potential for carnage, but I like what is here. I also like the commentary on our relationship with modern technology, and the potential danger of leaving children too long with their devices/toys (a danger that has been ongoing since concerns were raised about letting the TV be the main babysitter).
I liked this enough to look forward to whatever might come next. I would suggest M3GAIN for the sequel title.
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