The uncanny valley meets the certain doom we expect of artificial intelligence in M3GAN. Brought into being by Akela Cooper, who’s also responsible for 2021’s Malignant, M3GAN is an android whose primary function centers on companionship for children. No spoilers ahead, just a quick little review to get me back in the game!
I’m sure many will compare this film to the Child’s Play franchise, and that’s not necessarily wrong, though it may be a tad reductive. While Child’s Play tackles issues of consumerism and the targeting of advertisements at children, the role of the M3GAN android in a child’s life is meant as so much more than simply a toy. Though there are plenty of acknowledgments of the nature of these toy company’s general disregard for the youth in favor of profit—peppered throughout the film we see a number of advertisements and conversations between executives discussing their intentions with this new android product, the extent to which M3GAN could even replace the need for other toys, friends and potentially family, specifically parental figures.
Created by Gemma, Katie’s aunt and legal guardian, M3GAN fulfills all of the roles in Katie’s life that Gemma is uninterested in having to take part in. She can entertain the child, while Gemma can focus on her work as a technical engineer at a toy company, Funki Corporation. The interconnectivity of all of our devices, from our phones to our smart homes, provide a bountiful landscape for the android in which to operate and thrive. Designed to learn, M3GAN’s expected to guide Katie through many of life’s challenges and in essence raise her.
The film presents us with the typical fears of artificial intelligence, such as the technology turning on humanity and killing people, but it also presents a newer critique of tech as well. Katie’s parents discuss screen time and how to limit it for Katie. As a childless adult, the concept of limiting children’s use of technology isn’t something I really ever think about, but it’s absolutely a 21st century concern for most adults. It wouldn’t be right to simply cut off a child from technology entirely, for a variety of reasons, not least of which being you don’t want your child to be technologically illiterate. It’s through use of technology that people become savvy and able to read between the lines: what is an ad, what is a good resource or citation, what does a scam look like, how does phishing work, etc. These are all valuable skills that people in my age range (and younger) have far better developed than the generations before us. Finding this balance must be something of a new terror for young parents.
Aside from all these subtexts and cultural critiques, M3GAN delights with camp and a sense of humor. Similar to James Wan and Akela Cooper’s prior collaboration Malignant, this film takes the absurd and presents it seriously, but somehow not without being in on the joke. Subtle reactions by both our main characters and minor roles round out the humanness of the film. Many people first respond to seeing the android and realizing it isn’t human by blurting out “what the fuck!?” and then following it up with a trepidatious or excited, “that’s really cool.”
I can easily imagine this film becoming a cult classic, something that’d play at midnight showings. It strikes the right balance between camp and scares. I heard an interview with James Wan where he talked about wanting to make a movie that was Annabelle meets The Terminator. As soon as I heard that I thought, “oh, yeah, that is what M3GAN is.” They nailed it.
The only issue I have with the movie is that I wish the third act had gone a little harder. Everything leading up to it worked well enough, though I think some of it could’ve been a little more expeditious. Without getting into spoilers necessarily, I wish the inciting incident for the third act had happened a little sooner. It’s probable that I only feel this way knowing what Cooper and Wan are capable of crafting: Act three of Malignant is one of the most bonkers series of events in recent years, so I definitely had an expectation of some real chaos and widespread mayhem, spanning multiple locations and directly impacting a lot of people. But like I said, had this come from a writer/producer that I had no prior expectations from, it’s possible I’d have been totally satisfied with the ending we get.
I know that people aren’t necessarily calling this movie stupid in a mean way, but I honestly don’t think it’s a “stupid” film, even in the way I expect they mean it. This may just be me, but calling a film stupid, even when you mean it lovingly or when you enjoyed it, just doesn’t strike me as ok, unless that was the intention of the filmmakers. For example, I’d say you could call Army of Darkness stupid, maybe, but I’d probably go with silly or campy instead.
Brief updates: since writing this on January 8th, there’ve been a few developments with M3GAN. Apparently the movie just hit VOD on Tuesday Jan. 24th. And since it killed at the box office (grossing over 125 million dollars worldwide) a sequel has already been announced and scheduled for a 2025 release.