Welcome to the new world of genre cinema, where decades of low-budget sleaze and slime have been overtaken by PG-13-rated, eminently meme-able stuff that’s marginally funny but designed mainly to repeat yourself back to you. It’s a space where you’re encouraged not to take a story seriously, where a murderous doll reciting the lyrics to a pop song replaces actual scares. Welcome to M3GAN.Meet Cady (Violet McGraw), an ordinary little girl. She spends too much time on her iPad and just wants to be left alone, until a mishap on a snowy highway during a ski vacation with mom and dad leaves her an orphan. She’s sent to stay with her aunt, Gemma (Allison Williams), a designer at a toy company. Gemma
couldn’t be more ill-equipped to take care of a child, despite the fact that she builds playthings for them. She’s career-focused, wealthy, planning vacations with pals — simply put, caregiving is a huge interruption in her life (her level of empathy for her orphaned niece is neither established nor particularly at issue in the narrative).
It just so happens that Gemma is in the process of a major technological breakthrough. She’s building M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android (a truly exquisite piece of jargon gobbledygook). M3GAN is designed to be a learning computer, a caretaker, a best friend, and an educator — a do-it-all helper to take the burden of parenthood off of your strained soccer parent shoulders. At first, Gemma’s boss, David (Ronny Chieng), thinks the whole thing is a waste of time, but once Gemma shows him a convincing demo, the company is on board with a rushed and heavily promoted launch of this new $10,000 toy. Meanwhile, Cady and M3GAN are becoming closer by the minute. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that murder comes into play, in addition to some vague swipes at the sacrifices intrinsic to parenthood and the way in which screen time and technology have become surrogates for some. But these are merely pretenses for what amounts to a pretty basic, camp-leaning comedy about a killer robot, one that unfortunately pulls its graphic punches and frankly isn’t funny enough to carry the project past a serious lack of gory violence. Reports suggest the film was recut for a lighter rating; that might be its biggest mistake.
M3GAN isn’t so much a horror movie as a meme generator. The much-hyped moment where the killer robot girl does an equally killer dance lasts longer in the trailer than it does in the finished film. The humor is constant, but it’s also toothless; it’s supposed to be funny when M3GAN does bad things, but she only really does them to bad people, so we feel safe in her presence. There’s nothing remotely unpleasant or suspenseful about any of this, and there’s barely any detectable grue; all four — yes, that’s all — of her kills occur mostly off-screen, and one is by proxy (we’re not counting the dog). There will be those that say this movie does exactly what it says on the tin, but it does so in the safest and most predictable way possible, and it ultimately has nothing to say about parenthood, technology, or even killer robots. All M3GAN is interested in is providing GIF material.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 1.