REVIEW: M3GAN (dir. Gerard Johnstone)

Certificate: 15 (strong threat, violence, bloody images). Running Time: 102 mins. UK Distributor: Universal Pictures

WHO’S IN IT?

Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Stephane Garneau-Monten, Arlo Green, Michael Saccente

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Gerard Johnstone (director), Akela Cooper (writer), Jason Blum, Michael Clear, Couper Samuelson, James Wan (producers), John Murphy (composer), Peter McCaffrey, Simon Raby (cinematographers), Jeff McEvoy (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

An android doll programmed to protect a young girl (McGraw) runs amok…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON M3GAN?

It’s almost a shame that Paul Verhoeven doesn’t seem to be making over-the-top sci-fi films like RoboCop, Total Recall or Starship Troopers anymore (though if he keeps making wildly entertaining movies like Benedetta, then I hesitate to complain too heavily), because if he still did, then there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have made a film like M3GAN.

Actual director Gerard Johnstone, who previously made a mark on the horror genre with his well-received debut Housebound, carries many of Verhoeven’s classic attributes – the campy style, the wicked sense of humour, the devilish Trojan-horsing of witty social commentary on modern issues – into this wild and fun-filled sci-fi horror that takes a familiar concept and not only runs with it, but gives certain tropes a fresh new spin that keeps it endlessly engaging to watch.

The film is set within the world of modern toy manufacturing, as roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) works to fulfil the demands of her employers, while also working on her own side-project: an AI-powered robot doll named M3GAN – short for Model 3 Generative Android – which could potentially change the toy world forever. However, Gemma is suddenly saddled with her young niece Cady (Violet McGraw), who has been left newly orphaned after a fatal car crash, but she has no idea how to effectively communicate with her new ward. She decides to introduce her to a M3GAN prototype (played physically by Amie Donald, and voiced by Jenna Davis), which very quickly helps Cady to overcome her initial grief – however, it isn’t long before M3GAN takes on a life of her own, and as her protective measures against anyone who comes after Cady become more and more murderous, she becomes virtually unstoppable to everyone around her.

You’ve certainly seen films like this before, whether we’re talking about Child’s Play or Annabelle or Puppet Master, and M3GAN is entirely aware of that. As such, it doesn’t pretend as though it’s the first film in the world to be about a killer toy, nor does it even attempt to differentiate itself from some of those more classic examples; instead, it just has as much fun with its premise as it possibly can, and does a pretty good job of giving audiences everything they’d expect from this kind of film, without being condescending or snarky about its own tropes. It will proudly have scenes where M3GAN runs after one of her victims on all fours, and then later performs a carefully choreographed dance number in front of another soon-to-be-dead person, all while being completely aware of how bonkers it all is, and is all the more entertaining to watch because of it.

The Verhoeven influence is strong in a lot of what Johnstone and writer Akela Cooper (who recently gained attention for her Malignant screenplay for director James Wan, who also produces this film) bring to the table. This includes a spot of tongue-in-cheek violence which, while never as imaginatively gory as some of the Dutch filmmaker’s most prominent genre features, earns points for recognising how silly some of its more over-the-top kills can be (one person gets the top half of their ear pulled off, while another is sprayed in the head with pesticide that causes their face to start melting). Some of the performances also tend to match the heightened tone, with Allison Williams effectively serving as the straight (wo)man opposite exaggerated types such as Ronny Chieng as the hot-tempered CEO of her toy company – who, if this actually were a Paul Verhoeven movie, would almost certainly have had a role to play in creating RoboCop – and Lori Dungey as an antagonistic neighbour that might as well have a ticking clock beside her at all times, counting down to her eventual fate.

More prominent, though, is how Johnstone and Cooper incorporate some smart commentary on the nature of modern technology in current society, not unlike some of the points that Verhoeven made in films like Robocop and Total Recall. Here, a lot of M3GAN has to do with young Cady forming an attachment to the titular android at the behest of her new guardian Gemma, who would rather keep working on new inventions than spend any time with the child. The film doesn’t shy away from the consequences of that, such as Cady becoming more and more withdrawn from the outside world and ends up relying quite heavily on M3GAN, to a point where she becomes angry and even violent when she’s deprived of it. The parallels between something like that and a parent giving their child access to an iPad just to keep them occupied are far from subtle, but are nonetheless cleverly woven into the story as a thoughtful and intelligent conversation piece that at the very least makes viewers aware of the themes it’s playing with.

The film is an entertaining romp that neatly blends campy violence with some worthwhile social commentary, but M3GAN does begin to lose some of its steam as it descends further into climax territory. There will be some stock villain lines being delivered with a straight face, which again does add to the self-aware aesthetic of the overall film but that doesn’t mean it no less corny to hear, and it has the kind of final stinger that’s clearly setting up for a second entry and doesn’t quite make this one feel as standalone as it perhaps should have felt. By that point, even with the film’s over-the-top nature being fully established, it feels like we’re getting too much of a good thing, and it sullies some of the enjoyment that it otherwise delivers in spades.

It might start to wear out its welcome in those final minutes, but that doesn’t stop M3GAN from being a fun, clever, and unapologetically silly movie that you can endlessly come back to, especially if you ever find yourself in need of a batty killer doll movie where the doll in question randomly starts singing Sia’s “Titanium” out of nowhere.

SO, TO SUM UP…

M3GAN is a fun take on the classic killer doll formula that brings a strong awareness of its own silly nature, as well as some smart social commentary on children’s reliance upon modern technology, which only starts losing steam nearer the end.

M3GAN is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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