It started about a week before M3GAN's January 6 premiere. It was the most infuriating thing imaginable. I was aware of the weird Chucky influencer thing Hollywood was passing off as a film, and I wanted nothing to do with her. That little bow, her strange dance--it was all an obvious marketing ploy to pull in a specific demographic. It couldn't be more obvious, and she wouldn't go away. It was like she was following me around online. First, it was Facebook. I couldn't scroll down without seeing her face, and then it was YouTube. That's when I nearly threw my laptop out into the street. Every time I clicked on a video--literally every time--I had to wait through a trailer.
I lived through the early days of the Pokemon craze. I've seen shameless mass marketing, but the sheer amount of money they must've spent to harass me like this--it was unfathomable. It worked, of course. M3GAN briefly knocked Way of the Water out of its top spot and everyone under the age of 14 was just drooling to get their hands on one of those dolls. I took it as a sign that people are impressionable. If something has the right style and the right amount of ad revenue, people will buy into it. I mean, they had her essentially stalking people. That didn't mean there was any value in the film--quite the opposite. Why would they spend so much money marketing something if it was worth watching? They'd ripped off a bunch of ideas, came up with some generic story, and spruced up the look. I was convinced that I could recite every plot point before I saw it, and I was right. M3GAN isn't terrible, but she's not special or unique. Nearly everything in the film has been done before--just not with that outfit. Don't expect profundity or groundbreaking special effects. There's nothing philosophical or worth adding to the public discourse. It really is just a robotic doll that looks like an Instagram model.
I was deadset on avoiding her. They had her stalking me for a week. They weren't getting a red cent out of me. I'd ride out the craze, stick to streaming my favorite shows, and ignore the fact that she ever existed. But she still kept showing up--SNL, commercials, YouTube videos. She didn't go viral; she was a virus that had infected the internet, and I hated her--those creepy eyes, that ridiculous bow. Did they really have to dress her like that? Are we training kids to act like plastic models that drink foam lattes? That wasn't the kind of culture I wanted to live in.
M3GAN - official trailer
Boredom did me in--and some of the buzz. I could ignore a bunch of botox queens doing makeup videos and hair extensions, but when people who know their front from their rear start mentioning the film, I start to wonder. Is it really worth my time? I decided it was only 2 hours. I wouldn't have to invest in an entire season, and I could turn it off if it was really bad. It wasn't.
The story is basic. We all know it. A robotic doll gets passed off as a children's toy and starts killing people. The child in question was just orphaned and had been forced to live with her aunt, who worked at a robotic toy company. M3GAN is supposed to be the greatest invention of all time, so they pulled out all of the stops when they created her, and as much as I hate to admit it, they did a pretty good job.
Every good piece of science fiction adds something new to the table. That's where the movie succeeded. It was all within our current capability--for the most part, but everything had evolved. The new technology that we are still getting used to--things voice recognition and smart home devices had merged more seamlessly with daily life, and robotics was the new frontier. Kids would control defecating furballs on their iPads. M3Gan's creator had developed a robot that could be controlled with a set of haptic gloves--which sounded like a blast. But they wanted to keep building, keep creating, and advancing technology, so they kept pushing the limit. M3GAN was supposed to be the answer to that. Instead of building more vulgar furballs like her boss wanted, M3GAN's creator locked herself up in the company basement and poured all of her time into building the perfect children's toy.
What made M3GAN so special?
M3GAN was special, and I'm willing to say that even after clicking past her trailers every few minutes for a week. She had a full, complex sensor array. There was a spectrometer, allowing her to analyze particles like a nose--a concept genius enough to deserve a moment of recognition. She could sense a person's emotional state, whether they were happy, sad, or anxious, and she could access the full breadth of human knowledge available to the public online. She could also learn and alter her own parameters. This had numerous applications. It's been suggested that she could diagnose illnesses or developmental disabilities in children. Any trick she could read about and perform with her small body, she could learn. She would play the piano or go over studies on child-rearing. The idea was to have her take over some of the more grueling tasks that parents have to perform, like telling a child to wash their hands after leaving the restroom, as well as some of the more complex, emotional stuff that parents aren't necessarily equipped for.
Her real superpower was her intuition and her ability to sway others. She could read breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate--all of the little clues that can be used to understand what's going on inside a person's head. There was no lying to her. She caught on right away. She'd watch a person, study their reactions, and find out the perfect thing to say to them. This is something that the field of robotics is extremely interested in making a reality. Creators know how important it is to make robots that are relatable. If we build a connection with them, and they feel like real people to us, we start to treat them like one of us--a friend, a member of the family, even a lover. Imagine building a product that can make you fall in love with it. That is what M3GAN did.
What did M3GAN get wrong?
Don't be fooled by M3GAN's minor contributions to the genre. It is deeply flawed on every level. By the time M3GAN was in theaters, I had watched well over 2 hours' worth of content--which ended up being the same video over and over again. I couldn't listen to music. I had to stop scrolling through reels. There would be times when I'd be driving, jamming out to my favorite song, then all of a sudden her voice would start blasting through my car's speakers. It was unacceptable and it was poorly thought out. Marketing is about targeting, not harassment. You're supposed to find out who wants to watch your film and give them a steady stream of quality original content to keep them engaged until the premiere date. They did have behind-the-scenes looks and interviews. But they were constantly overshadowed by that one clip. It might have given them a quick boost in sales. They could even make an impression. But that impression won't last. M3GAN will fade because it was spammy, corny, and childish.
Marketing was a huge part of the problem, and it remains a source of contention. But there were some gaping holes with the plot as well. The biggest issue is the nature of the genre. Robots are designed with a set of core principles known as the Laws of Robotics, which of course, includes that they will do no harm. It actually comes from science fiction author Isaac Asimov, and it's one of the many examples of early science fiction influencing modern science. When we give a robot that command, they're not going to ignore it, mistranslate it, or redefine the equation. That's not how that works. They do what they're told--point blank, no ifs, ands, or buts. No robotics engineer is going to create something as powerful as M3GAN and forget to add that part in. It's just not done. There's a massive taboo against ignoring Asimov's laws, especially when you're dealing with children's toys. That wouldn't have happened.
M3GAN's killing spree didn't make sense either. AI malfunctions aren't all that diverse on film. They will decide that they need to kill all humans in order to survive. They could change the way they react to a command, like imprison all humans to keep them safe, or they might stick with one command to a fault--which is what happened with M3GAN. She was told to keep her child safe, and from that point on, every mistake she made was a result of her taking her programming too far. She killed the neighbor's dog. She tore a bully's ears off. Everything she did, everything she said, every movement she made was in service of that higher principle until her dance scene. All off a sudden she decides to start doing cartwheels and slashing people up. There was no rhyme or reason to it. She just did. It seemed so out of place--especially considering M3GAN's focus on her prime directive, that I had to do a bit of investigating. The scene was added in by the director later on. It showed.
M3GAN's Viral Dance Scene Was Actually 'Snuck In' By The Director
Is M3GAN a Hit or a Miss?
A lot of people seem surprised that the film is actually watchable. It's got moviegoers curious. That is as low as the bar goes. This is a bottom-feeding parody--watchable, sure--but nothing more than a quick, forgettable film. There's nothing wrong with that. Just don't come to the theater with high expectations.