At this point, we have a collection of cautionary tales that the A.I. convenience factor would adversely affect our lives in one way or another. Yet, we can’t help but stick our hands on the hot stove to widdle down a percentage of responsibility. M3GAN (or Model 3 Generative Android) is leagues above the capabilities of Teddy Ruxpin and Tickle Me Elmo. It’s a four-foot doll where once it’s bound to you, it can learn all your emotional intricacies while constantly adapting. Sounds great for parents, right? There’s only so much an IPad can do. But we all know what happens when you swamp out human connection with technological placeholders, right?
Gemma (Allison Williams) is a toy roboticist who works for the company Funki, and her boss David (Ronny Chieng), is constantly putting her and her team under pressure for a new product. The one, in particular, is called Purrpetual Petz – which will remind you of an updated version of a Furby doll. But why go small when you can make something like M3GAN? Well, there are some issues to be worked out with the prototype. Also, a big portion of Gemma’s life changes with an unexpected tragedy. She takes over as guardian of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after her sister, and Cady’s father dies in a car accident. Now, Gemma has to meet a deadline while trying to exhibit a non-existent parental bone. This pushes her to finish M3GAN to fill the void Cady’s parents left – however, there are some things you can’t substitute.
Gemma gets more than she bargained for as M3GAN and Cady grow closer. Coupled with the capitalistic view of the promise of an endless amount of money, she exploits this to further along the project watch. Tess (Jen Van Epps), Gemma’s teammate, voices her concerns about M3GAN becoming a pseudo-babysitter while having loosened constraints on how fast her knowledge grows (a classic sci-fi warning). There’s money to be made, and perhaps, everything will work out fine. (nope).
Much of the delight of the film comes from M3GAN (voiced by Jenna Davis/acted by Amie Donald) herself. At first, she disarms you with a charm only a titanium-plated humanoid can do – even breaking out into a well-timed song on occasion. Her devotion to Cady becomes more insidious as the film continues – because when you’re tasked to protect someone at all costs, morality falls to the wayside. Some well-placed wisecracks from M3GAN herself put this on display. It’s a tried and true fable that’s been tackled throughout various mediums like Netflix’s Black Mirror and even the 2019 Child’s Play remake. The endless possibilities of technology can be scary – even with all the pluses considered.
Director Gerard Johnstone and writer Akela Cooper are aware of the campy feeling of what a life-like robot existing in the Tik Tok era can be and leans into it. Yes, the social media campaigns play up the silliness of what happens. There’s dancing and also classic horror mayhem that will keep audiences entertained. M3GAN elects for a slow build to show the computer’s dissent into madness – a choice that pays off.
The family drama part of the plot starts to take on a fuller form in the later half of the film. Gemma and Cady often use M3GAN as a barrier to cover up for their grief of losing a loved one. Willans and McGraw can lean on the emotion of what that means when they have scenes together – sans the watchful eye of the terror inside their house. There is something to be said about feelings and how we alleviate them with gadgets to dull the intensity of loss or the difficulty of being a parent.
While M3GAN has some story machinery that many of the horror faithful would be familiar with, it’s hard to deny that this tale does its job well. The demise of humans may come from the present and future, but this time with stomping out our collective fires with social media choreography.