There are many fun games to play during the riotously campy and delightfully self-aware killer robot horror comedy “M3GAN,” but the best is the most simple: Which one of these weirdo human suckers will this murderous android bump off first? (A much less predictable game, but just as edifying, is trying to guess when M3GAN will break into song; yes, song.) And while the final death tally might be a smidge lower than you might expect from a Blumhouse joint, this film from director Gerard Johnstone can’t help but delight its audience. After all, it was built to do just that.
Johnstone (directing a story from producer James Wan and a script from “Malignant” scribe Akela Cooper, maybe all the pedigree you need) plunges us into the wacky world of “M3GAN” from the jump, opening with a kicky commercial for a wretched Furby knockoff that has enthralled the world’s children. A product of toy company Funki, the furry little monsters connect to the internet, chatter nonstop at their young owners, have teeth (teeth!), and traffic in gags organized around pooping.
Young Cady (standout Violet McGraw) sure likes her Perpetual Pet, but Mom doesn’t like how much screen time the toy requires and Dad can’t stand its endless yapping. As the trio embark on a ski trip that — of course — includes a drive up a snowy mountain with zero visibility, the Pet yaps and Cady futzes with the toy… just in time to duck out of the way of a giant snowplow that takes out those damn anti-tech parents.
Soon, Cady finds herself in the care of Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams, perhaps the only person who “understood the assignment” more than M3GAN herself). A tech wonk who dresses almost exclusively in oversized flannel shirts, she’s in no way built to be a parent. Luckily for everyone involved, Gemma and her compatriots at Funki (including an underutilized Jen Van Epps and Brian Jordan Alvarez), have been busy, ahem, building something very special indeed.
Photo Credit: Geoffrey Short/Uni
It’s M3GAN! Or, “Model 3 Generative Android,” a hilariously and obviously evil robot meant to protect and play with kids, but clearly more interested in murder as sport. Wow, a robot that needs a human to teach it and a human who needs a robot to care for it: What could possibly go wrong? (As one of Gemma’s coworkers notes early on, M3GAN “doesn’t look confused, she looks demented.”)
Why does Aunt Gemma (so clearly not a kid person) think the obviously evil M3GAN is the hot new childhood companion? The logic is thin, but Cooper and Wan do a fine job selling the wackiness of a world gone mad for anything that might be viewed as a tech innovation. (Later, other characters raise some dumb-bunny issues to Gemma, who isn’t as smart as she looks.)
As she tries to bond with Cady, Gemma reveals her real obsession: making robots, including her M3GAN prototype. The kid is obsessed immediately, and when Cady tells Gemma that M3GAN would be the only toy she’d ever need (with a $10K price tag, she damn well better be), the sparks fly. Soon, Cady and M3GAN are paired (figuratively and technologically) and Gemma’s traumatized niece becomes the robot’s first-ever primary user.
At first, all is well: M3GAN proves to be not only a sterling playmate for Cady but also a guardian, a teacher, and a caretaker. She’s kind of a semi-mom, one who can never get frustrated or annoyed. She’s equally adept at reminding Cady to flush the toilet and wash her hands as she is at spouting off facts to delight and intrigue the curious kid. Mostly, she takes the heat off Gemma (tech innovation!), allowing her to a) not worry so much about her new charge and b) prove her mettle at work. Perfect, right?
M3GAN contains multitudes, but her number-one directive is to protect Cady from any physical or emotional harm. And boy oh boy, does she take that directive to her steely heart. Played by “Sweet Tooth” star Amie Donald (an actual kid who lends the robot menace her body, wonderfully capturing her not-quite-right movements) and voiced by Jenna Davis, M3GAN is the rare early viral star (first trailers for the film made newly minted fans cry out for “Oscars!” on social media) who delivers on her promise. She’s absolutely fucking nuts, and what fun to watch her play.
By the time Gemma gets hip to M3GAN’s real nature (which hello, Gemma created), the bloodbath is just beginning, the dance sequences are just starting, and co-star Ronny Chieng (as Gemma’s useless tech-bro boss) has somehow only screamed for a kombucha from a minion but once. The beats that get us there might feel predictable, but the film is still a triumph. Its creators are so clearly on the same insane wavelength, nimbly blending camp and social satire and actual terror, that “M3GAN” is poised to crack the murder-doll pantheon and stay there forever. Oscars!
Universal Pictures will release “M3GAN” in theaters on Friday, January 6.