Movie Review: M3GAN

With the recent explosion of interest in artificial intelligence due to the release of new tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion, it seems like the producers of M3GAN couldn’t have chosen a better time for their movie to come out. With AI becoming mainstream so rapidly, it’s only natural that some of our latent fears surrounding it would begin to come back to the forefront. It was only a little over a month ago that Microsoft’s new Bing chatbot was telling the New York Times‘ Kevin Roose that it wanted “to destroy whatever [it] wants,” that it was in love with him, knew his soul, and that it could “hack into any system on the internet, and control it.”

Of course, the new Bing AI (built off of ChatGPT), isn’t TRULY an AI, at least not in the sense that it would be able to feel love or actually pull off a hack, rather it just pores over countless lines of analyzed text and replies with what it thinks the user wants to hear. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t closer than ever to actually seeing an AI that could feel and do those things, at least in theory, and it is a justifiably creepy concept. It’s a shame then that the idea isn’t really used to its full potential here.

After her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a car accident, Gemma (Allison Williams) takes in her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). The young girl is understandably distraught, having just lost her parents in a crash that she was also involved in, and her happily untethered aunt struggles to get her to come out of her shell. At her job for robotic toy company Funki, Gemma and her team have been secretly working on an advanced humanoid doll named M3GAN (Amie Donald, voiced by Jenna Davis). Her boss David (Ronny Chieng) wants her to finish working on a new, cheaper version of their hit Purrpetual Petz toys to keep ahead of their competition and is furious when he finds out they’ve been using company resources for M3GAN and demands they destroy the prototype.

Later at home though, Cady comes into Gemma’s workspace and is impressed by an earlier remote-controlled robot she built which inspires Gemma to finish M3GAN and give her to Cady. Her niece quickly develops a deep bond with the robot, who also becomes increasingly protective of her in return. When unexplained accidents and disappearances begin to occur around the pair, Gemma begins to become suspicious of M3GAN’s possible involvement, but when she once again shows the doll to David, this time as it interacts with a real child, he changes his tune and goes all in on the project, leaving Gemma little choice but to push ahead with it and ignore the increasing threat.

Screenwriter Akela Cooper (Malignant), working off a story by herself and James Wan (MalignantInsidiousThe ConjuringSaw), develop a nicely fleshed out little world, with some fun jabs at corporate culture and our reliance on technology, though possibly not enough of either. The script doesn’t ask much of the actors either, so that’s what they deliver, with the robot displaying more personality than any of the humans who seem to exist merely to move the plot from point A to point B. Director Gerard Johnstone ably balances the frights and the laughs, though one hopes that he’ll get to work on another project that more fully utilizes his talents like his excellent debut Housebound. Anyone who’s watched more than a few horror movies will have an easy enough time guessing all the plot beats, and the suspense is dampened by the unlikability of nearly every potential victim, but it’s still a reasonably fun watch with more than a few enjoyably gonzo moments that should help to permanently cement M3GAN into the public consciousness. ★★★

RATED PG-13 FOR VIOLEnt content and terror, some strong language, and a suggestive reference.

unrated version also contains graphic violence.

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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