M3gan (2023): Plastic Fantastic

There must be something good in the coffee on board American Airlines, because I watched three films on one of their flights this week and they all seemed pretty great.

I’d previously skipped M3gan on its theatrical release because I assumed from the name that it must be a sequel to movies called something like ‘Megan: Death Doll’ and ‘Megan 2: Polymer Warrior’, neither of which I’ve seen. But that is because, of course, they don’t exist, and despite its name the film is not a sequel.

I’m glad I caught up with it now, though, as it turned out I laughed more times in this new Blumhouse horror than any other film I’ve seen this year. It’s hilarious.

M3GAN is a prototype robot toy, a curious, machine learning, titanium playmate, and the natural successor to the Furby. ‘Today is the day we kicked Hasbro in the dick!’ exclaims triumphant toy company exec David when he sees a working demonstration. Imagine ChatGPT meets the Terminator in a four foot tall doll aimed at Ariana Grande fans. She is emotionally attached to her nine year old owner, Katy, who loses her parents in a traffic accident at the start of the movie – so every time Katy gets upset, M3gan will do everything she can to protect her. Can you guess what might go wrong? Yup, that. And that. Ooh, yeah, and that.

There’s a difference between being predictable and fulfilling a promise, and M3gan stays on exactly the right side of that line for almost its entire running time, only let down by an unearned story beat in the third act when Katy suddenly decides she prefers her disinterested human guardian Gemma to robo-bestie M3gan, and a rather too telegraphed sequence of pay offs in the last fifteen minutes. But the second act is *chef’s kiss*.

Openings are easy. Well, not EASY, but it’s rare I see a film without a good enough opening twenty minutes. If your first twenty pages are no good, you’re unlikely to get your project moving at all. And everyone knows endings are hard – hard to nail perfectly, so they tie up everything neatly while still being surprising.

But most often it’s that long second act that’s the hardest part of a film to get right, in my opinion. All the stuff that happens between the set up and the goodnight, the wax and wane, the to and fro, the development, the BUSINESS. You might have some ideas for scenes but how do you get it to flow naturally and how do you control the pace and modulate the tone? It’s like a long, long plate spinning performance. That’s the very hardest part of screenwriting, I find.

But M3gan, with a script by Akela Cooper and James Wan, utterly hammers that second act. The film is short and fairly low budget, so the action is focussed and brisk, yet it’s happy to introduce new ideas, popping out little subplots like bite sized treats that don’t distract or slow down the story. Here’s a deadly robot, yes, but here’s the child psychologist, here’s a bit of industrial espionage, here’s a play group in the forest, here’s a parenting dilemma. It’s organic and thematically consistent and inevitable feeling without being pat or mechanical. And, as I mentioned, there are some great gags, one after the other.

The only problem will be what to call the sequel. M2gan? M3g2n? M3GAIN? (Need more coffee…)