2023 is certainly off to an impressive start, movie-wise. Usually the new year allows holiday releases to continue dominating for a week or two before unleashing anything heavy-duty. To be clear, “Avatar: The Way of Water” did still dominate the weekend with $45 million domestic against the $30 million debut of “M3GAN,” but $30 million for a new film in the first weekend of the year is nearly unprecedented. That’s how the film is impressive commercially. It turns out the film is quite impressive creatively as well, another rarity for early January.
The film stars Allison Williams as Gemma, a toy designer that suddenly gains custody of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Despite her family-friendly job description, Gemma is in no way ready for the responsibilities of parenthood. If only there was a way to keep the child happy and occupied while helping the adult’s career in the process. As Gemma works primarily in robotics, that solution is the Model 3 Generative Android, or M3GAN (played by Amie Donald, voiced by Jenna Davis).
At first, M3GAN seems to be what’s best for everybody. She helps Gemma endear herself to her boss (Ronny Chieng) and she’s soon the star of the company as it realizes it has the greatest toy in history on its hands. As for Cady, she and M3GAN bond, and the two are quickly best friends. Of course, some question if it’s healthy for a child to attach themselves to a robot as much as Cady does, but this is the 21st century, how bad could it be for a child to develop a dependency on a piece of technology that was designed in a week by someone with questionable parenting skills?
Yeah, things go off the rails. At first it’s just a simple matter of M3GAN misinterpreting her directive to “protect” Cady, but eventually her whole worldview goes sideways and she turns malevolent. And that means we get what we all came for: the psycho killer little girl robot with the strangely hypnotic dance moves. Honestly, full-blown evil M3GAN isn’t that interesting. After some calm, efficient violence, she becomes just another bland “stalker” villain with dialogue that really shouldn’t be in her programming.
What elevates the movie is the dynamic between Gemma, Cady, and M3GAN. Gemma undoubtedly has love for her niece, but she makes some ill-advised decisions when it comes to complicated issues like discipline, patience, and grief. The film’s advertising has (understandably) focused on M3GAN turning evil, but it’s also worth mentioning that Cady deteriorates too, depending so much on the artificial friend that she forgets to make real ones. She turns into a raving lunatic before the robot does, and Gemma is forced to recognize that it’s by her design, literally and figuratively. This movie has a lot to say about society’s dependence on technology, giving it more in common with something like the original “Robocop” than movies that simply feature diminutive antagonists like Chucky or Annabelle.
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Some serious points aside, I don’t want to downplay that “M3GAN” is a whole lot of fun. The movie never fails to play up the absurdity of a robot that can run intellectual (and sometimes physical) circles around the world around it. Nobody in the theater was laughing harder than me when the robot would butt into a conversation with what she “thinks” is a helpful contribution, or when she would win at a mind game that the humans didn’t even realize they were playing.
As an action or horror movie, “M3GAN” is okay, maybe a little watered-down because of the PG-13 rating, but as a comedy, I can tell it's going to be one of the funniest movies of the year, and we’re only one release in.
“M3GAN” is rated PG-13 for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference. Its running time is 102 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.
Last Update: Jan 11, 2023 8:25 am CST