Back in 1988, a cinematic serial killer used the voodoo Demballa chant to level up after catching a fatal bullet after a foot chase that climaxed in a toy shop in Chicago and as a result, the Child’s Play franchise was born, catapulting Chucky to the top of the pile of on-screen devil dolls. If we’re being honest, he’s been there ever since (sorry, Anabelle fans, she just fucking sits there while demons use her like an Uber) – until now, that is.
Produced by Jason Blum and James Wan (who, with Billy from Saw, the ventriloquist dummy from Dead Silence and – yes – Annabelle herself, really should think about seeing a shrink about his killer doll fetish), M3GAN takes not only the murderous plaything scenario but pairs it with a large amount of techno-fear to give us a movie that’s not only a rollicking good time, but may have delivered us our next enduring horror icon.
After her parents are planted six feet under by a car accident involving a snow plow, young Cady is left orphaned and is sent to live with her roboticist aunt who works for Seattle toy giant, Funki. However, Gemma’s mothering instincts are far from kicking in due to the fact that her company’s latest toy sensation has been usurped by a noticably cheaper rip off and her over-emotional boss needs her to cuts costs in order to “punch Hasbro in the dick”. This is especially frustrating for Gemma as she’s on the verge of perfecting M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), a super-toy powered by artificial intelligence that adapts to a child’s needs, but is being funded somewhat off the books by the workaholic inventor.
However, in a somewhat callous move, Gemma sees a perfect opportunity in the crestfallen Cady that might benefit both of them and unbeknownst to her superiors, Gemma gets M3GAN up and running an offers her to her bereaved niece for comfort.
At first, M3GAN proves to be everything Gemma had hoped for and more with the super-bot’s caregiving skills not only easing her workload, but also seeming to genuinely quell Cady’s pain. However, this is a sci-fi horror film and of course something will eventually occur that is sinister as fuck and thanks to her AI being hastily briefed, M3GAN is doing her cold, impassive best to follow her parameters and make sure no harm, both physical and mental, should before the child in her care, so the metal moppet switches her operating system to “Psychopath” and starts eliminating any one or thing that cause Cady pain.
Taking out the odd snapping dog or shitty bully here and there, matters unsurprisingly spiral when Gemma, unaware she’s created a murder bot who has fixated on her niece, finally presents M3GAN to her bosses with rapturous results. However, as Cody begins to develop an unhealthy bond with her dolly of death, Gemma’s mothering instinct finally twitches into life – but M3Gan isn’t about to let anyone get between her and her friend. Not even her creator.
On first glance, it seems that M3GAN runs on a lot of the same processing matrix that generated the 2019 Child’s Play remake as both noticably involve unlikely toys struggling to wrap their defective AI’s around such concepts as morality as that bloodily defend their troubled young wards from the world in general, but a closer look at M3GAN reveals a very welcome name in the credits: screenwriter Akela Cooper. Chiefly responsible for penning James Wan’s 2021 mental-fest Malignant, Cooper plies a more restrained version of her enjoyable talents here, teasing out the two opening acts to deliberately put us three steps ahead of all the characters and thus almost having be compliant in M3GAN’s crimes as we smugly smirk to see how it’s all going to play out. However, a rip-roaring climax switches out the cat and mouse stuff in favour of a full-on, woman versus machine, Terminator homaging, smackdown that proves to be particularly exciting. However, some may remark that for all her bells and whistles, M3GAN isn’t really that original, liberally swiping ideas from other movies all over the place; however it’s not the nature of the story that makes M3GAN so much fun to be with, it’s how it’s told that makes feel all shiny and new.
The first thing is that in these types of movies, the kid usually ends up being somewhat annoying (tragic past or not) while the adult is sort of an emotional wet noodle, but here things are made infinitely more interesting by the fact that Cody is genuinely empathetic (thank you a nicely vunerable Violet McGraw) and the notion that Gemma genuinely makes hideously exploitative decisions thanks to not owning a single shred of mothering instinct and therefore has to work hard to gain the audience’s sympathy, something Allison Williams (a veteran of making tough-to-like characters engaging after Girls and Get Out) manages to actually do. Theres obviously the usual Frankenstein-style warnings about meddling with science shit and angry-browed lecturing about how crap we’re getting at bonding with our kids with all this screen time flying about, but despite the occasional bout of moralising, the movie truly understands what we’re all here to see.
Despite me playing the hype-man earlier, M3GAN’s eponymous villain may have some ways to go before she eclipses Chucky’s impressive 35 years (and counting) in the business, but she’s off to a fucking great start. With her uncanny valley features, her sickly sweet tone (simultaneously receptive to children, but patronising to adults) and her ability to fling a judgemental death stare someone’s way while not even being turned on, she legitimately is a top of the line horror icon in waiting and while she’s never truly terrifying (unsettling is a far more accurate term), she’s a hell of a lot of fun to be with as she inflicts her sadistic, spiteful will on some crappy people with a certain snap to her step.
There’s not many other horror villains that can pull off a complicated dance sequence while chasing down a victim with a guillotine blade, chase down a bully on all fours like an animal before wincingly stretching his ear out like taffy and sing a song to help her best friend sleep by mimicking the vocals of Sia (whoever’s chose David Guetta’s Titanum deserves a raise. Now.).
In fact the only down point I can really put forward (aside from the well worn path of the plot) us that we don’t get enough of the craziness as the versatility of its incredibly adaptable baddie could have used an extra punch with a bit more gore to eeally get the gonzo juices flowing. But considering that a harsher cut being discussed for the home release and a sequel is already being mulled over (a M3GAN army, anyone?), I guess we’ve got plenty of playtime still to come.
All singing, all dancing, all killing – M3GAN slays in more ways than one.