Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writers: Akela Cooper, James Wan
Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Ronny Chieng, Lori Dungey

Creating robots as companions and/or helpers is nothing new to the world of sci-fi (or, indeed, the real world). As such, the sci-fi sub-genre of robots interacting closely with mankind can be a tough one to create a story around. Original ideas and plots are few and far between, but at least tone and story can leave some wiggle room for a more unique and entertaining experience. Does M3GAN manage to go down the route of something we’ve not quite seen before, or is this one robot movie that should be returned to the manufacturer?

After suffering the loss of her parents, a young girl named Cady (McGraw) is sent to live with her estranged aunt, Gemma (Williams). Gemma is a roboticist working for a large toy company, recently working secretly on a Model 3 Generative Android, aka M3GAN, a robotic doll. Gemma is also a workaholic and lives a fairly reclusive life. After realising she may not be good at relating to or have a lot of free time for Cady, Gemma focuses solely on bringing M3GAN to life as a companion for Cady. Initially, Cady is thrilled with M3GAN and treats her like a real friend. However, M3GAN’s learning capabilities are soon put to the test as she begins to fundamentally understand her directive to take care of Cady, ultimately putting the lives of Cady, Gemma, and all those around them at risk.

As mentioned, nothing about this kind of story is particularly original: human creates robot/android. Robot/android seems perfect. Robot/android begins to think for itself. Robot/android becomes a risk to humanity. Regardless of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, semi-sentient machines/artificial intelligences always seem to want to kill us in the end, sometimes “for the greater good”, and M3GAN is no different. But is there anything that actually sets this movie apart from the likes of I, Robot, The Matrix, The Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey? Actually, yes. Writers Cooper and Wan were likely aware of the unoriginality of the premise, and so they focused a lot on the tone of the movie, allowing the characters and story to not take themselves/itself too seriously. M3GAN has smatterings of blatant humour, dark humour and outright creepy humour. For instance, in one scene M3GAN sings the chorus of “Titanium” to Cady as a way to soothe her. Initially this comes off as random yet funny, until the final line which acts as a stark reminder that M3GAN is a physical force to be reckoned with. That wiped the smile off my face quite effectively. I’m sure everyone has seen the trailer in which M3GAN performs a brief dance, professing the undercut of humour in this movie despite it mainly being marketed as a horror/thriller in the vein of Child’s Play. It works well to keep the movie grounded and not pretend to be anything more than it is.

Production-wise, there is little to be raved about when it comes to the special effects. With a mix of using an actress and CGI, the M3GAN doll is brought to life quite effectively, but not to the point of being particularly scary. Creepy, yes, but scary, no. At times she is too reminiscent of a Thunderbirds puppet (or, perhaps more accurately for modern times, a Team America puppet). The blending of live action and CGI allows for a more realistic doll/robot, at least in the way it moves, which in itself can be unnerving, but it can also be a little fourth-wall breaking, at times making audiences remember that it is just a performance. The creation of M3GAN herself within the movie isn’t exactly all that believable either, as Gemma seems to manage to get her physically finished within a few days and paired with Cady before running any other tests. It’s all rather rushed to fuel the need for Cady to have someone (or something) to mentally connect with. It’s another reason why the humour is sorely needed in this film, so as not to overthink everything as and when the opportunity arises.

As it seems that this movie shouldn’t be taken too seriously, nor should the performances. Williams is generally a good actor, and considering one of her main co-stars is a robot, she puts a lot of effort into keeping it as real as possible without going overboard. She has a dryness to her performance that sets the tone for how the audience should react to M3GAN, so that works well. On the other hand, McGraw is a great young performer who does a very good job of going through the motions of a traumatised child acting out in ways that are, frankly, scarier and more worrisome than any killer robot. Donald puts in a good performance for a youngster as the physical body of M3GAN, particularly with her dancing skills, and Davis provides that sweet childlike voice of M3GAN’s that grows ever sinister as the autotune kicks in to signify M3GAN’s deteriorating systems. The supporting cast do their jobs well; however it must be said that Chieng’s character David, Gemma’s boss, is as annoying as anything, and I think that’s partly the character, partly Chieng’s hammy performance, a performance that is probably the weakest of the supporting cast.

Overall, M3GAN is a fun movie, one to go and see with your friends or that one person you know who is too much of a wuss to see a proper horror movie. It’s not the most original film, but at least its creators seemed to be aware of that and did what they could to add things that made the movie self-aware, too. Considering the subject matter, maybe a self-aware movie isn’t the best thing to have, lest it decide to somehow infiltrate our lives and destroy us all, much like M3GAN will likely try to do in the upcoming 2025 sequel, M3GAN 2.0. Stay tuned to find out.

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