M3GAN Review: Akela Cooper and James Wan bring a fresh take on murder robots

Spoiler alert: yes, the dog dies in M3GAN. That’s not the only casualty in this 2023 horror-comedy, but you can experience the rest for yourself this Halloween on Prime Video.

When Cady (Violet McGraw, The Haunting of Hill House) loses her parents in a freak accident, her aunt Gemma (Allison WilliamsGet Out) becomes her uneasy guardian. A single woman devoted to her work at the FUNKI toy corporation, Gemma is unsure how to parent a young orphan. She decides to fast-track the Model 3 Generative Android, or M3GAN (Amie Donald, body, Jenna Davis, voice) to help her care for her niece. When Gemma’s boss, David (Ronny ChiengCrazy Rich Asians), pushes to debut this exclusive new toy, she is concerned about the numerous disappearances that seem to connect back to M3GAN. M3GAN’s promise not to allow any harm to come to Cady turns deadly as she finds threats around every hallway she dances down. 

M3GAN is a slick-looking moving with staying power

The story of a murderous robot has been done, most recently with the film adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s, but writers Akela Cooper and James Wan team up again after their success with Malignant to bring a fresh take on the genre. And director Gerard Johnstone adds style to this that belies its relatively low budget. M3GAN is a slick-looking movie that holds up to multiple watches.

One concern I had for this M3GAN was that the story might be borderline preachy. The first scene starts with some concern about the amount of screen time that Cady has, and any time that happens, there is a chance for it to turn into a “kids these days” screed, but the focus is far more on the need for connection offered by adults and less about the way that kids use their devices. I won’t say that it doesn’t hammer that point a little hard, but it definitely avoided crossing into eye-rolling territory.

A clever script helps make M3GAN charming

Ultimately, the movie balances the lesson-teaching part well with the murder robot part. The script is clever, allowing M3GAN to be quippy but not so much that she’s not relatable to the kid she’s supposed to be paired with. While the movie has some genuinely lovely moments between Gemma and Cady, it never takes itself so seriously that it loses its sense of humor, allowing it to be a fully charming movie. 

The performances are great all around. McGraw perfectly encapsulates a young girl who lost her parents and avoids dealing with it by playing with her new toy. Williams balances being a driven woman thrust into motherhood against her will without becoming an unlikable character. The relationship between the two of them is incredibly natural.

A viral success backed up with sass and heart

But what really makes M3GAN work is the joint performances between Donald and Davis combined with some excellent VFX work and puppetry. Amie Donald made M3GAN a viral success before the movie was even released with her incredible dance moves, and Jenna Davis brings so much life to her with the perfect blend of sass and heart. The two worked closely to flesh out this android fully.

After being released in theaters with a PG-13 rating, M3GAN was later released on streaming platforms with an unrated version. Because the original isn’t incredibly scary, I thought perhaps we would get more from the unrated version. But while the unrated version does have a bit more gore in it, it is minimal, and honestly, I didn’t think that it added enough to really make it worth the different release. Malignant was a violent film, and I thought we would see something along those lines, but a few extra splatters didn’t justify it in my mind. If you’re looking for a funny, creepy horror movie that is still mostly safe for the family, I’d stick with the theatrical release. You don’t gain anything from the unrated version.

Final thoughts on M3GAN

The movie definitely doesn’t break any new ground. There isn’t much here that you haven’t seen. There aren’t any twists that have people talking. It follows the formula that you expect straight down the line, but it does it in a way that still keeps the audience engaged. M3GAN runs for an hour and 40 minutes, but I never felt I needed to check my phone to see how much time was left. 

Ultimately, I think this movie deserves high praise. As we continue to deal with the effects of a global pandemic, grief is something that many of us need to process. Using film to do some of that processing makes sense. M3GAN reminds us that there’s no escape except to go through it, even if the “it” in this case is a titanium doll.

How to Watch M3GAN

M3GAN is now available to stream on Prime Video. Watch it however you like to stream your movies.

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If you’re looking for more Halloween movies, check out all of our Halloween reviews, including a review of the horror flick, Thanksgiving.