Gemma (Allison Williams) is a roboticist who works for America’s most successful Seattle-based toy company, Funki. Funki is the company behind the Purrpetual Pets, the really annoying Furby rip-offs that every child wants to have. Gemma has developed a child-sized humanoid robot that she calls M3GAN. She thinks that it could be the new big toy but her boss, David (Ronny Chieng), disagrees. David says to stick with what works and develop a new Purrpetual Pet.
While Gemma is trying not to lose her job, she also has to deal with a new arrival in her home. Following the tragic deaths of her parents and the destruction of her Purrpetual Pet, Gemma’s eight year-old niece moves in with her. From the minute that Cady (Violet McGraw) shows up, things are awkward. Gemma is more comfortable dealing with technology than with other humans. When Cady attempts to play with a toy on Gemma’s bookshelf, Gemma quickly explains that it’s not a toy. “It’s a collectible.” In fact, it’s not until Gemma introduces Cady to M3GAN (played by Amie Donald with Jenna Davis providing her voice) that Cady finally starts to become comfortable in her new home. M3GAN is the friend, older sister, and maternal figure that Cady is desperately looking for. And even though Gemma knows that M3GAN is still being developed and could possibly malfunction, Gemma is kind of happy that Cady finally has someone other than Gemma to look after her.
And, of course, M3Gan is happy too. M3GAN proves to not only be a quick learner but she also takes her duty to look after Cady very seriously. When the neighbor’s dog bites Cady, the dog vanishes shortly afterward. When the neighbor suggests that either Cady or Gemma had something to do with the dog’s disappearance, the neighbor ends up getting attacked in her garage. When a bully tries to push Cady around before then attacking M3GAN, M3GAN reacts by ripping off his ear. It may seem like it’s good to have M3GAN on your side but what about when M3GAN decides that Gemma isn’t doing a good enough job raising Cady? What about when M3GAN herself starts to suspect that Cady needs to be disciplined?
M3GAN came out in January and it was, to the surprise of many, the first big critical and commercial success of 2023. Some of that, of course, is because there really wasn’t much competition back in January. Audiences that didn’t want to rewatch the Avatar or Black Panther sequels really didn’t have many other options other than M3GAN and Plane.
That said, M3GAN is an undeniably effective mix of satire and horror. It works precisely because it captures what we all secretly fear, that AI is eventually going to kill us. M3GAN may look adorable and she gets to show off some pretty good dance moves towards the end of the film but she’ll kill anyone who gets on her nerves and, as both Gemma and Cady find out, it’s pretty much impossible to turn her off. It’s not just that M3GAN replaces Gemma as Cady’s primary caregiver. It’s that the viewer knows that it’s totally possible that there’s an army of M3GANs out there, waiting to replace all of us. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, at least 50% of the reviewers over on Rotten Tomatoes will actually be advanced AIs, programmed to overpraise studio productions while only giving negative reviews to films that don’t necessarily need good reviews to sell tickets.
M3GAN works as both a satire and a horror flick. The movie opens with a macabre Purrpetual Pet commercial that’s cringey specifically because it feels so accurate. As brought to life by Amie Donald and Jenna Davis, M3GAN is a wonderfully creepy character who is occasionally made sympathetic by the fact that, much like HAL in 2001 and the robots in Creation of the Humanoids, M3GAN seems to have more genuine feelings than the humans around her. Indeed, with the exception of Violet McGraw’s Cady, there are no sympathetic human characters. Gemma, for instance, is a very familiar type, someone who knows how to write code but who has no idea how to relate to anyone on an actual emotional level. In many ways, her relationship with Cady is just as a manipulative and destructive as M3GAN’s.
M3GAN is a strong movie up until the final 20 minutes, when M3GAN suddenly starts to target people who she really doesn’t have any reason to go after. But, overall, it’s an effective look at the future that we may have waiting for us.