starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis
screenplay by Akela Cooper
directed by Gerard Johnstone
by Walter Chaw That the Internet works the way it does and evolved as quickly as it did likely had everything to do with it being the finest distributor of pornography the world had ever seen. If a band of apes created something like the Internet, for instance, they would use it primarily to inflict violent dominance over others--and for sex, if possible. No "ifs" about it: we are, and we did. When an artificial intelligence was tasked with machine learning via the Internet, it became a misanthropic, misogynistic racist almost instantly. The Internet is also the single greatest anthropological bellwether ever created, diagnosing who we are when we're not obsessively adjusting our mask of civility; 100% pure id. I love Alex Garland's Ex Machina because it understands that if a robot that looked like Alicia Vikander were invented, men would try to fuck it, and no expense would be too great in that pursuit. It doesn't even have to resemble Alicia Vikander--it can just be a flashlight with a rubber hole in it. Which brings us to the question M3GAN refuses to confront. If you make a little blonde doll that looks like a 12-year-old Fiona Gubelmann, you're opening an entire hornet's nest of uncomfortable issues that would be fascinating to address. What happens when unfettered tech capitalism collides with pedophilia? I mean, the Replicants in Blade Runner are soldiers, teachers...and prostitutes. Even Spielberg's A.I. recognizes that great leaps in technology are historically tied to warfare and rutting.
Perhaps saving that conversation for a future installment when the rival company that's stolen the technology for M3GAN produces its own prototype, Gerard Johnstone's M3GAN ("Model 3 Generative Android," physically portrayed by Amie Donald but voiced by Jenna Davis) is less the full-on freakout one may expect from Akela Cooper of Malignant infamy than it is a by-the-numbers tweensploitation riff on Monkey Shines. That doesn't mean it's not fun, only that it doesn't wrestle with anything particularly existentially thorny. M3GAN's Dr. Frankenstein is brittle spinster Gemma (Allison Williams), forced reluctantly into the role of guardian to her niece, Cady (an exceptional Violet McGraw), when Cady's parents perish in a car accident. Psychological complications could be mined from having a childless woman workaholic cave under the societal pressures and expectations of parenthood, I suppose, but there doesn't appear to be much on M3GAN's mind in terms of that. It did, however, make me think of those terrible attachment experiments done on monkeys once upon a time where a baby is separated from its mother and given a "mother" made of wireframe wrapped in carpet, so there's that. Cady, see, develops a serious attachment to the android Gemma has created to be, essentially, a parent-substitute--a proxy made necessary by Gemma's total lack of maternal interest in poor Cady. Pre-social media thinkpieces contemporaneous to the Teddy Ruxpin toy in the 1980s opined about the fitness of parents who would buy things like this to read stories to their children, and a character in M3GAN brings up the same conundrum with regards to M3GAN: What happens when supertoys last all summer long, but kids become adults?
I might have liked M3GAN more had its character arc not already been explored in meticulous and ethical detail over the first three seasons of Seth McFarlane's Star Trek fanfic series "The Orville", but there you have it. At the end of the day, M3GAN is worth it for that scene where she dances in a hallway like a nightmare Sia video. The movie inspires a lot of philosophical conundrums to worry over while presenting a straight-line horror premise wherein a thing that is supposed to be an emotional support animal picks up on certain cues from its master and goes rogue in increasingly gory ways. It's Argento's Phenomena without the courage to go the places Phenomena goes and with the artificial-intelligence question obscuring its essential lightness and unwillingness to really grapple with itself. What's left, then, is a picture that skates thisclose to being offensive in its portrayal of single, working women, Asian bosses in tech industries (Ronny Chieng spends the whole thing screaming at people), and frumpy spinsters with dogs whose only function is to remind us what could happen to Gemma if she doesn't find a nice man to settle down with. For what it's worth, I liked the sassiness of M3GAN itself enough to forgive the rest of it. She's saucy, ungovernable, smarter than everyone, of course, and ultimately right about everything, even if her methods (killing a dog, child, etc.) are a little too outside the mainstream. Maybe the ultimate moral of M3GAN is don't enter into an Internet contest against teenagers because the Internet raised them to hunt and murder us. There it is. I like it better already.