Nathan‘s Review of M3GAN
M3GAN, the surprise box-office success from this past January has finally hit streaming in the US on Peacock. I had heard so much about this movie over the past few months and so I decided to give it a shot with my roommate.
Before anything else, there are some things that you should know about the movie:
- While it is often discussed and marketed as a horror movie (akin to Child’s Play), it’s definitely not. It is more of a sci-fi thriller.
- The character of M3GAN is as sarcastic, campy, and fun as everyone says. But if you have seen any of the trailers than you have likely already seen all of her best moments.
- M3GAN is in surprisingly little of the movie. She doesn’t become a major presence until about 1/3 of the way through.
M3GAN is about a young girl, Cady (Violet McGraw), who goes to live her aunt, Gemma (Allison Williams), after her parents die in a horrific car accident. Gemma is a toy engineer, and she currently works for a company that builds what are essentially furbies (those horrific creations from the late 90s and early 2000s). However, her real goal is to build a M3GAN, a Model 3 Generative Android, a child-sized AI to act as both a friend and protector of the child who owns it. To make a long story short, she is successful in building M3GAN, but M3GAN is a lot more than Gemma or the rest of the company could ever bargain for.
It does take quite a long time for the movie to get to the actual M3GAN storyline. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as both horror and sci-fi movies often tend to have a lot of place setting and character/world build up before shit can really break loose. However, I found the first 1/3 of this movie to be just a tad tedious because (1) it was not necessarily interesting enough to justify 30 minutes and (2) it was so tonally inconsistent with what came after it, and what the marketing led me to expect.
Maybe it was because M3GAN inexplicably became a queer icon before the movie released, like the Babadook before her, but I just couldn’t get my head around the slow, dramatic, and surprisingly sad early goings of the movie. It was setting up themes and emotional pay-offs that just didn’t jive with later scenes in the movie. The beginning of the movie is not bad by any means, but it is quite drawn out.
And maybe this is just an issue of the director/writer’s initial vision and how that vision became distorted through marketing and cultural conversations. I am sure that if I had heard nothing about the movie before I hit play on my Roku that the beginning would have been less jarring; I wouldn’t have had to take so much time to get my head around it. But since we as viewers cannot separate our expectations of a piece of fiction from the piece of fiction itself, I cannot really judge the movie in any other way.
Once Gemma finally unveils M3GAN to her bosses, the movie really picks up momentum. M3GAN truly is a stellar AI character. The screenwriter and director nicely balanced her more robotic and emotional qualities, as she both seems to care and yet is guided by her interpretations of her limited programming. It isn’t a spoiler to say that she goes on a bit of a murder spree in the movie, and there are some really clever and funny scenes where she enacts what she thinks of as “justice” for Cady. Not only is M3GAN a sassy, sarcastic, and witty AI, but it was also fascinating and fun to watch her moral compass slowly change over time. The stakes gradually raise as she seeks to eliminate more and more people out of Cady’s life.
To hopefully again help viewers mediate their expectations, another thing that could be disappointing to some is that the climax is not super action-heavy or violent. Anyone looking for an over the top, bloody, and campy final massacre isn’t going to find one (even though the set up for the climax kind of implies that there will be one). I would have liked for the director to have gone all out in the finale, because it would have matched the over the top and campy tone of the middle section of the movie. Instead, the movie leans back into the (attempted) emotional poignancy of the first 1/3 of the movie. It kind of works, although the emotional payoff is a bit rushed, and won’t leave you feeling like you wasted your time or anything. The movie has a nice wrapped up feel to it, with the door open for a sequel (which has already been announced).
There are a couple of other things in the movie that I really enjoyed. Violet McGraw, the young actress who plays Cady, is really strong. She really conveys Cady’s complex emotions over the loss of her parents well, as well as the immense emotional growth she makes over the course of the film. Allison Williams is also good as Gemma, although she has a lot less to work with. I especially have to give a shout out to Amie Donald who plays M3GAN (Jenna Davis does the voice) because Donald brings a chillingly uncanny humanness to the robotic role. She absolutely nailed combining jerky, programmed movements with the natural flow of the human body. She was instrumental to making the whole film as chilling and campy as it was.
So, overall, I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys this genre of campy and murdery science fiction, but not people who only want the campy elements or only want the murdery elements. The movie doesn’t really work as a comedy nor as a horror movie, so you cannot go into it expecting either of those things.
The memes you have seen might work better than the movie itself, but if you manage your expectations right there are far worse ways to spend an hour and a half.