“M3GAN” – So you think you can dance!
As with Violent Night, I went into M3GAN expecting exactly what the movie ended up delivering – a doll committing murders. The difference between Violent Night and M3GAN is that Violent Night leaned all the way into its absurdity and premise, while M3GAN kept having second thoughts about what it wanted to be. The only real question I had was would M3GAN be closer to Ex Machina or Child’s Play?
(SPOILER ALERT – M3GAN follows the slasher/thriller movie formula to the letter. Every. Single. Letter.)
The answer to my question came less than thirty seconds into the movie in the form of the film crapping itself. That’s not a joke – M3GAN opens with a commercial for a toy called a Purr-petual Pet literally pooping on a table. The entire tone of the movie is set by this commercial, emphasizing to the viewer that the filmmakers aren’t taking their own movie seriously so neither should we. Not only does that mean M3GAN will walk the Child’s Play path, but it will do it with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.
Gemma (Allison Williams) is a roboticist working at a toy company. While working on an updated version of the pooping pet, she and her teammates Tess (Jen Van Epps) and Cole (Brian Jordan Alvarez) have also been developing the Model 3 Generative Android or M3GAN. It’s Model 3, not because the movie is interested in establishing Gemma’s intellectual prowess or the evolution of the android, but because M1GAN and M2GAN aren’t easily pronounced. When their boss David (Ronnie Chieng) discovers their secret M3GAN project (don’t ask why or how it’s a secret) and a quick demo of M3GAN goes awry, David tells them they have until Friday to finish an updated Purr-petual Pet.
In addition to the threat of losing her job, Gemma is informed that her sister and husband have died and she has to take custody of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Wanting nothing to do with parenting and showing all of the sympathy of a book shelf to Cady, Gemma realizes if she finishes M3GAN then M3GAN can be Cady’s friend/psychologist/parent. The idea of technology raising children has been a moral panic now for decades and this movie asserts that M3GAN is the logical conclusion of that panic.
Had the movie decided to explore the ramifications of such a conclusion, we might have witnessed another engrossing, cerebral film like Ex Machina. But this is a slasher flick that led off with a toy that poops and farts. You stop that thinking, and you stop it right now. Otherwise, you might notice how the movie does zero work to establish a relationship between Gemma and Cady that would make you care about them when the inevitable showdown with M3GAN happens in the climax. Or that Gemma is able to finish building and coding the most advanced artificial intelligence by herself in a matter of days. Or that Gemma gave M3GAN super strength. Or that M3GAN is instantly self-aware and knows everything in the world on day one. The closest the film gets to exploring the idea of a robot displacing parents is when it occasionally wags a finger at the concept, like in the form of a social worker making disapproving remarks about M3GAN or someone mentioning “screen time” every now and then. Wait – I’ve just been informed that the film regrets even bringing it up.
Rather than displaying any kind of thought on the part of the writers, M3GAN sticks to the basic thriller formula. It starts with hints of malevolence, progresses to small bits of violence, escalates to a maiming or murder or two, then culminates in a blood bath. Except, for some reason, Blumhouse Productions and its partners decided they wanted M3GAN to be rated PG-13 instead of R, so that blood bath ends up more like a slowly dripping faucet.
With no blood sprays allowed, something else has to fill in the gaps. This is how we get moments clearly thrown in because someone thought they might look creepy or elicit laughs, not because they further the plot or happen in any logical context. In one scene, M3GAN appears in a hallway of the toy company, David at the other end. Suddenly, M3GAN starts doing a bizarre dance, making her way closer to David. While it succeeds in provoking laughter from the audience, at no previous point during the film has M3GAN even hinted at dancing, let alone danced. A movie with a shred of thought would have included a setup scene where M3GAN dances as part of a test or even to cheer up Cady, but remember – no thinking allowed.
The major writing problems stem from a generous helping of indifference, likely because the sole focus of the filmmakers went into the aesthetics of M3GAN herself. There were so many little things they introduced that could have been used to tighten up the movie and ramped up the horror, even adding a joke or two. Instead, those things were forgotten mere moments later. David’s assistant stealing corporate secrets, the company allowing a world-changing invention to leave the building, the neighbor’s dog doing visible damage to M3GAN (literal sparks flew), any kind of safety protocols, Gemma’s Alexa-like house AI, even the Purr-petual pets never return after their brief appearance at the beginning of the film. It would have added so much more to the horror aspect if Cady still had her Purr-petual pet following her family’s car accident, then M3GAN destroying the pet and framing the neighbor’s dog or even the neighbor for it. Or, it could even have led to another black comedy bit, M3GAN stabbing a pet after it poops, winking at the audience that it saw the opening commercial too. All of those things and more were opportunities wasted because someone thought including things like M3GAN stretching a kid’s ear to lengths typically reserved for Farrelly Brothers movies was a good idea.
Despite what you may think, I didn’t hate M3GAN. In fact, I didn’t feel any emotion toward this movie. It’s not a bad movie, just a rote movie refusing to take any chances. Little effort went into anything in the film outside of how M3GAN looked. Why would I become invested in a movie that the writers were barely invested in? A movie so dedicated to the slasher/thriller formula that it was laughably predictable throughout its entire runtime? A movie billed as a horror comedy that never figures out if it should lean into horror or comedy? Instead of aspiring to be more like Ex Machina or Child’s Play, M3GAN is content with falling asleep while watching those movies. Maybe next time try a little more thinking and a lot less dancing.
Rating: Ask for two thirds of your money back since there is about thirty minutes of movie worth seeing.