I don’t like writing reviews of movies I didn’t care for. But I’m going to make an exception in the case of M3GAN (M3GAN=Model 3 Generative Android), because I keep seeing things on the internet saying “You ought to see this one” or the like. Well, I disagree. In my opinion, this movie has one saving grace, and that’s the combination of CGI, animatronics, and acting that produces the eponymous robot/android.
M3GAN is something like an SF version of Chucky (no voodoo or whatever the heck animates the Chucky doll here, it’s pure SF, and really dumb SF at that.) For some reason I don’t comprehend, it’s got something like a 94 rating on Rotten Tomatoes; they say it’s funny and silly. Am I missing something? Funny? Silly? Is that what they’re calling “stupid” these days? (I know, I sound like a grouchy old “Get off my lawn!” guy.)
One of the things that SF movies demand is the old “willing suspension of disbelief” for things like robots, androids, etc., etc. We’re willing to accept that Arnold Schwarzenegger can be an unstoppable atomic-battery-powered superstrong unbreakable cyborg from the future, because they can make all kinds of stuff in the future that we can’t make now. We’re willing to accept Chucky as an unstoppable “GoodGuy” doll that’s moved and motivated by some supernatural (okay, that’s fantasy, not SF, but the principle still applies) force. But as far as I can tell, this movie takes place in the very near future—the cars we see are pretty close to what we see on the streets now, where none of that stuff has been invented.
I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Gemma (Allison Williams) is a supersmart programmer/inventor who works for a company that makes stupid, ugly, expensive toys. Like a Furby, only uglier, run by a CEO named David (Ronny Chieng). Gemma suddenly gets custody of her 8-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw), when Cady’s parents are killed in a ridiculously stupid accident (their car is in the snow with no snow tires, and they decide to stop—in the middle of the road! Dumbasses.). Gemma’s in no way prepared to be the guardian of a child, but fortunately (or not), the timing is perfect. Gemma’s under a time crunch to come up with a new version of the company’s signature toy, because a rival company’s copied their design and ads—with a toy that sells for a lot less than theirs. David is on Gemma’s ass, and not only has Gemma been burning the midnight oil, she’s also been working more on her side project—a self-teaching companion doll she names M3GAN, which she thinks will be the salvation of the company—than on the one she’s being paid for. Besides which, she and her two cohorts have been using company money to build the doll, about $100,000 worth. They get caught by David and chewed out and given a few days to complete their assignment.
Okay, here’s the first red light—if you get stealing company funds, even $1000, let alone $100,000—especially if it’s for a project you’ve been told by the CEO to drop or put on the back burner, you don’t just get your hand slapped. You get immediately fired, sued, and probably jailed. Even if David has his cojones in the wringer, he’s responsible to various other people unless he owns (and evidence suggests he doesn’t) the company outright. But let that go for now. In an effort to calm David, Gemma puts on a quick demo, now that M3GAN’s new polymer face has arrived, to show David what she’s working on. Her assistant has forgotten to install a crucial component, so the doll blows up (the head, where the CPU is, anyway). David yells and tells her she only has a few days to finish her assignment.
In comes Cady to Gemma’s life; she’s not prepared, at home or even with her schedule, to have an 8-year-old girl live with her. But the timing is perfect; M3GAN is supposed to be a companion doll, and by “pairing” her (via DNA sample) with Cady, Gemma can continue her project while she works on her boss’s project. Because Gemma is a genius coder (and apparently an electronics/mechanics genius), she has programmed M3GAN to learn, not only by being around Cady, but via wireless internet download.
Cady is M3GAN’s primary user, which means she/it (I’ll just call her “she” for simplification) focuses all her efforts on helping Cady—who needs a lot of help: her parents just died (she sustained minor injuries in the accident), she’s in a new place not set up for kids, and her guardian is too busy to interact with her (during her first day with Gemma—another red light—a social worker shows up to “monitor their interaction” even though they’ve not had even a couple of hours to interact). So M3GAN becomes in fact, not only a companion, but sort of in loco parentis, a substitute parent, telling Cady to flush the toilet, and monitoring her “social” activities. (Maybe people found the toilet thing funny. I didn’t—at eight, her parents should have already taught her basic toilet etiquette.)
We learn that, in college, Gemma built a giant (7-foot-ish) remote-controlled robot, something I can guess hasn’t happened yet IRL.
**SPOILER**That becomes a key point much later. (You probably guessed that just like I did as soon as it was introduced.)
Okay, moving right along we discover that Gemma has a neighbour with a troublesome dog who gets into Gemma’s yard through a hole in the fence. Rather than put a simple board over the hole, Gemma likes to yell at her neighbour and threaten her with the authorities. Another easy clue here. Cady bonds immediately with M3GAN, and the latter becomes much more protective of Cady—plot point again. The rest of the movie is—as one reviewer remarked, a “paint-by-numbers” killer robot movie. Anyone who’s seen a couple of these knows exactly how (and mostly, when) things are gonna happen. (I won’t explain further; it’s pretty predictable.) So now I’ll tell you what I liked and more of what I didn’t like about the movie.
What I liked was the way M3GAN was done on-screen. The face (mostly around the eyes and mouth) is obviously non-human (even though the body is that of the young actress (Amie Donald) playing the doll. The voice was supplied (sometimes electronically altered) by Jenna Davis. The actress (Violet McGraw) playing Cady was not bad, though she mostly had to act like a wilful, spoiled child, which probably isn’t too far out of most young actresses’ reach. The body of M3GAN moves really well, whether CGI/animatronic or live. The remote ‘bot Gemma built is also well done.
And as for what else I didn’t like? Let’s start with the SF stuff: I’ve already mentioned that it’s near future, so all these inventions are coming out of somebody’s rear end (to put it politely). M3GAN is touted as having some kind of atomic battery (sorry, I missed the exact explanation), but spends most nights sitting in a lit area that appears to be a charger (like a wireless phone charger, only bigger). Physics: M3GAN is a robot, therefore, is very strong, with no explanation as to what kind of motors power her. What kind of leverage these motors give her—we’re just supposed to suppose a robot is stronger than a human (even a child-sized one), and faster. At one point she seems to move soundlessly across a room in a second. I don’t think we have enough motors today of that size that are that soundless. Her CPU (in her head, no less, a pretty stupid place to put it) seems to have the capacity to absorb googolplexes of data; wonder what kind of RAM she’s got?
I could go on, but what’s the point? It’s scientifically unlikely—I won’t say “impossible,” because I can’t be aware of every scientific advance on the planet, but I’ll say “improbable” at best.
Finally, I’ll say that M3GAN herself is probably the only good actor in the film besides Cady, except for maybe the neighbour (I think her name was Lori Dungey). The rest are passable at best. David was a caricature, and I’m surprised that James Wan (writer) would allow an Asian actor to look that clueless. The movie is from Blumhouse, which has apparently repositioned itself as BH.
Comments? You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome, as long as they’re polite. I’m willing to debate or defend my opinion.) That opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!