Reviewed by Alicia Glass
A robotics engineer at a toy company creates a too-life-like doll for her recently orphaned niece, that takes on a life of its own!
So, M3GAN wastes no time diving right into the story, and neither will we! Cady’s beleaguered parents were trying to get her into some kind of snow vacation up in the mountains whilst lessening her fixation on screen-time, especially the goofy Furby-like Purr-fect Pet that’s the latest rage in kiddie toys. And in the first of many predictable scenes, while Cady’s tired parents argue in their chain-less stopped in the middle of the road car, a gigantic set of semi lights come barreling right at them, causing everything to irrevocably change.
Cady (Violet McGraw) is the lone survivor, and though her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) insists she wants to take Cady in for at least the time being, it’s quite clear that while Gemma is an engineering genius, she has no idea what to do with Cady at allll. Sadly throughout the entire film we actually learn very little about Gemma personally, how she fell from highbrow robotics engineering all the way down to toy manufacturing, for a profit-obsessed boss at that, what her personal life might have been like before this tragedy, we get none of that. Gemma mentions that she and her sister weren’t terribly close when taking custody of Cady, which of course adds to her already mountainous guilt, but that’s about it. What we do know about Gemma is that she loves to create things, robotic things specifically, and while it’s a wild coincidence that Gemma happens to be the main creator of those dumbass Purr-Fect Pets, what she’s really passionate about is the robotic doll she and her coworkers have been working on in secret.
It really seems like Gemma leads a very closed life, her house is practically empty and barren of decoration, she has/had no significant other, younglings or pets that we can tell, she’s simply obsessed with things like computer codes and synthetic skins and adaptive AI, but in order to make what? A too-life-like doll that can basically replace the need for a nanny or babysitter, yes, but also eventually supplant teachers, other peers in the appropriate age bracket, even the parents themselves! Apparently while Gemma can indeed code freaking adaptive Artificial Intelligence into her secret project, she doesn’t bother with things like Grandfathered Sci-Fi tropes, Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, or even the very real need for basic human connection. After all, Cady’s a child, and frankly Gemma has absolutely no idea how to deal with her, and whether she realizes it or not, Gemma oozes awkwardness in trying to interact with the tiny human. I just want to take this opportunity to point out the irony in someone like Gemma making kiddie toys.
The stuff going on around Gemma is somewhat more interesting – the nosy Karen-like neighbor Celia (Lori Dungey) who absolutely refuses to leash her damned dog that always escapes through the hole in the fence between their properties, is absolutely asking for her comeuppance; coworkers Tess (Jen Van Epps) and Cole (Brian Jordan Alvarez) are all-in on the secret M3GAN Doll project, even helping Gemma to convince money-hungry boss David (Ronny Chieng) and his corporate thief of an assistant Kurt (Stephane Garneau-Monten) of the projects viability over those stupid Purr-fect Pets. The state-appointed therapist Lydia (Amy Usherwood) isn’t helping Cady at all, seemingly more concerned with the viability of Gemma as a caretaker, and as is the case more often than not with situations like these, demands Cady conform to her new reality without delay or protest.
After a night of awkward attempts at bonding over Gemma’s collectibles (“They’re not toys, you don’t take ‘em out of the box or play with ‘em”), the previous incarnation of M3GAN that Gemma called Bruce and capitalism made on youngling greed, Gemma is convinced the best solution is to finish the M3GAN Doll project and use Cady as her first test subject. Because family, right?
And after all, M3GAN really is a synthetic-sheathed miracle of human engineering and genius, at least in the beginning. She’s funny, kind and caring, adaptive to damn near any situation, constantly upgrading and applying everything helpful possible to her first Imprinted child Cady, and more overprotective than a rabid mama bear. Thus far all the adults in Cady’s current life are either ignoring her, fobbing her off on someone else who can potentially “deal” with poor Cady better, or insisting she act some kind of counter-intuitive way, usually adult-ish. Cady herself represents a problem that needs dealing with, instead of a miniature human that needs time and space to grieve for farks sake. It doesn’t help at all that Gemma tried to instruct M3GAN not to mention death or anything relating to it, to Cady. So when M3GAN and Cady Imprint each-other, the newborn unfettered AI with the strength of several fully grown men and the desperately lonely orphaned girl, it’s a recipe for impending disaster!
First, the damned dog needs to be dealt with, permanently. We all knew, the second the dogs teeth met any part of Cady’s skin, that the doggy and likely his owner too, were going to get disappearded, and soon. The film made a point of glossing the actual death of the poor doggy, and turned Celia’s death into a Chucky-like farce, so it was still fine for a PG-13 rating. (Sigh.) Then for some reason Gemma thinks it’s a good idea to send a more-recalcitrant Cady to an outdoorsy camp kind of deal, ostensibly just a campground program for fosters and troubleds, but the place seems a lot more like a juvenile offender detention center wrapped up in postcard-scenery. Especially when the mini mass murderer in training son of one of the camp counselors Brandon (Jack Cassidy) decides that Cady and her big-size dolly are the perfect next targets for his adolescent wrath – the scene where M3GAN contorts in a fury and chases the boy down like a rabid animal, showcasing M3GAN’s otherness and complete lack of restraint, is particularly well-done.
Time is starting to run out, Cady and M3GAN are far too close and the killer bot is starting to ice out anyone else in Cady’s life, at first socially and now quite literally. Gemma’s demonstration of M3GAN to the investors as the next big toy requires Cady’s participation, and the poor girl is unravelling under the ignorance of adults and the smothering care of her best friend-bot. Gemma is finally realizing, a little too freaking late for my taste, the potential wickedness of the thing she created, embodying the old adage, “Just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should.” And now that Cady finally has the attention of the adults she’s been so desperately seeking, it’s not a moment too soon, because stopping M3GAN is going to require some creative thinking!
The physical acting of M3GAN by Amie Donald for any scenes that the animatronic puppet itself could not do, full of Ring-like contortions and demanding presence from such a small body, is truly impressive in its terrible beauty. Donald wore a static silicone M3GAN mask made by Morot FX, to be later replaced by a CGI version of M3GAN’s face to match the animatronic, and the adult voice of Jenna Davis coming out of that tiny frame gives M3GAN another stamp of wrongness. The overall effect is a bit like a murderous crazed Anime version of Alice from Alice in Wonderland.
Catch the killer adventures of a jealous best-friend-bot in M3GAN, on Amazon Prime now!