Well, this is certainly one way to kick off a new cinematic year. Taking a fairly big swing, M3GAN is the type of genre work that used to litter January, only without any effort for quality. Here, we have something in M3GAN that decidedly is going big, determined to be unlike the other killer doll films of late. To that end, the movie certainly has a unique personality. It just bounces wildly around, tonally, preventing you from bonding with your purported new best friend.
Absolutely ridiculous and both intentionally/unintentionally funny, M3GAN is a future cult classic. In the moment? It’s a mixed bag. Honestly, it feels like the audience is doing a lot of the work here, making for a bit of a one-sided relationship. Going into it with the expectation of an almost ironically good time seems to be the way most of my colleagues (as well as the anticipated audience) are taking it in. Played straight, at least for yours truly, it doesn’t quite measure up.
Gemma (Allison Williams) is a roboticist for a toy company, working on a cheap robotic plush toy for her boss (Ronny Chieng). At the same time, she and her team (Brian Jordan Alvarez and Jen Van Epps) are secretly also developing a life-like doll programmed to be a child’s greatest companion and a parent’s greatest ally, using artificial intelligence like no toy has ever seen. Named M3gan (Amie Donald, with a voice by Jenna Davis), it’s a work in progress, but has the potential to change the world. When tragedy strikes for Gemma’s family, the timeline is accelerated.
Thrust into the role of guardian for her orphaned eight year old niece Cady (Violet McGraw), Gemma is unprepared for the moment. However, M3gan provides an opportunity. Deciding to pair the prototype with Cady in an attempt to help her niece and to showcase the toy, it initially seems like a wild success, exciting the company and providing solace to Cady. Of course, the more M3gan bonds with Cady, the further she’ll go to protect her, with murderous consequences soon to follow.
The acting is sort of horror movie standard, though Amie Donald is physically impressive as M3gan. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw are the only two characters with any semblance of background and development, but even then, it’s minimal. No one is particularly three dimensional, but then again, that sort of comes with the territory here. Supporting players, in addition to the aforementioned Brian Jordan Alvarez, Ronny Chieng, and Jen Van Epps, include Lori Dungey, Stephane Garneau-Monten, and more.
Director Gerard Johnstone shows some genre promise, admittedly. The script from Akela Cooper, with a Story By credit going to James Wan, thinks that it’s cleverer than it actually is, but there are moments of effectiveness. The thing is, M3GAN sporadically seems to be winking at the audience, but also wants you to actually be invested in it. This isn’t a comprehensive enough work to have it both ways. Again, the audience seems to be doing the work for it, hooting and hollering at some moments meant to be played straight. Cooper and Johnstone also make the strange choice of having almost all of M3gan’s victims be awful people, but also has the robotic doll slaughter a dog. Now, I know I have a thing about that, but it ripped me right out of the movie.
M3GAN has things going for it, but the tonal whiplash, alongside the unnecessary dog death, kept me a bit more at arm’s length than obviously intended. I may well wind up in the minority here, but the good does not outweigh the bad here. Is it a bit on the fun side? Sure. Is it also disappointing, given the potential for something even more ridiculous? Absolutely. Alas…