Like most of us, I am mildly addicted to my smartphone. I make sure it is with me all the time and, if there’s a moment where I feel boredom creeping in, I’ll grab it to check social media and other apps. I have an iPhone, but I rarely use the voice assistant Siri. If I’m driving and need to send or respond to a text message, I may use it. However, there are times when, without prompting, Siri will say something about what I’ve been talking out loud about. I push the button and say to no one in particular, “I’m not talking to you, Siri.” I have heard the rumors that our Facebook and other social media are listening to us speak via our phones and targeting us with ads related to our discussions. Smarter people than I have debunked this rumor as saying it would require massive amounts of storage to save our conversations and a type of advanced AI that (some say) doesn’t exist yet. I’m not so paranoid as to believe my phone is constantly listening to me and my ego is certainly not big enough for me to think I’m important enough for that kind of attention. That doesn’t mean, in some distant future, there won’t be a storage format that could compress data down to a point where all conversations could be saved and an AI smart enough to parse out what we say AND our intent. For a glimpse into a “Twilight Zone” like future with our artificial intelligence overlords, I present to you the new movie “M3GAN.”
Gemma (Allison Williams) works for a robotic toy company called Funki. She’s been working on a secret project with her fellow lab mates Tess and Cole (Jen Van Epps and Brian Jordan Alvarez) called M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android. M3GAN is equipped with an artificial intelligence allowing her to learn and expand on her programming. The android is designed to be a child’s companion and take over some of the day-to-day functions of parenting. Gemma gets a chance at a real-world tryout of M3GAN’s abilities when her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash, leaving her to care for her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Totally unprepared for parenting, Gemma puts a rush on finalizing M3GAN’s programming and introduces her to Cady. The pair bonds immediately and Gemma can focus more on her career. Her boss David Lin (Ronny Chieng) wants to begin production immediately and introduce M3GAN to the world via a live stream in front of an audience. But M3GAN is showing some troubling signs of being too independent. And when people near Cady begin to turn up dead under mysterious circumstances, Gemma wants to take her offline and run diagnostics to see if there’s a problem. M3GAN has other ideas.
The premise of “M3GAN” has been done in other films to varying degrees of success. The most notable is the “Child’s Play” series of films starring a killer doll named Chucky. In that instance, the doll is possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. A quick search on Wikipedia shows a list of 104 killer toy/doll movies going back as far at 1936. There are also numerous television shows that feature episodes of toys and dolls that either turn on their owners or are possessed and begin killing those around them. But M3GAN is a little different from Chucky, Annabelle or any evil doll from a “Twilight Zone” episode in that she isn’t possessed. M3GAN learns to be evil based on her programming. There’s a suggestion early in the film that the android is damaged in a dog attack and that leads to her violent turn, but that’s never followed up on. M3GAN’s AI appears to be learning not only from her experiences with Cady, but from the internet. She is constantly updating and learning more every second. Any look at social media would provide a blueprint on becoming evil. It has happened before when a chatbot was allowed unfettered access to Twitter and within 24 hours was posting racist and other hate-filled tweets. While “M3GAN” is about a robot that goes bad, it’s really about how easily the internet can corrupt people with hate and violence.
While this is a heavy handed view of the film, “M3GAN” delivers its message with a healthy dose of humor. The film knows just how outrageous this set up is and plays into the silliness on several occasions without losing the horror/thriller elements. Seeing M3GAN giving side eye Gemma as she contradicts her or questions her advice to Cady is both funny and unsettling as we know this android is going to remember every slight and probably take her revenge later. Anyone that has been surprised by their Alexa or other automated home assistant piping up when it isn’t expected will understand how disconcerting it can be.
The film also takes a shot at those allowing tablets and phones to do most of the babysitting and, in some cases, parenting in their home. M3GAN is shown reminding Cady to flush the toilet, wash her hands and use a coaster under her glass. She reads her bedtime stories and sings her songs. M3GAN is presented as a possible surrogate parent for anyone that buys her. It’s an exaggerated look at what may come, but one that is plausible and more than a little frightening.
“M3GAN” is rated PG-13 for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference. A character has his ear ripped off. Another is assaulted with a power washer and a nail gun. There is a suggestion of a dog being killed. A character jams a spiked chestnut into another’s hand. A character is choked with a cable and nearly blown up in a gas explosion. Two characters are stabbed to death. Two characters die in a car crash. I don’t remember the suggestive reference. Foul language is scattered and mostly mild, but there is one F-bomb.
M3GAN is created with a combination of trained dancer Amie Donald delivering her physical performance and the voice work of Jenna Davis. Along with some CGI to add the artificial texture of a synthetic face, M3GAN is a unique looking creation with very large eyes and plastic looking skin. She is both realistic and artificial and doesn’t become creepy until later. I embrace new technologies and look forward to a future when we have unlimited fusion energy, flying cars and highspeed rail service from coast to coast. I’ll probably be dead before any of that happens, but I’m a bit concerned about what artificial intelligence has in store for us as it is progressing faster and faster to becoming reality. There likely will never be a M3GAN-type android in my future, but AI doesn’t need a body to cause humanity problems should it decide to. As it is, we can rest easy in knowing M3GAN is just a Hollywood creation…for now.
“M3GAN” gets five stars.
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