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Director: Gerard Johnstone (USA). Year of Release: 2022

We open with a horribly plausible primary colour video advert about a young girl whose favourite pet has just died. How could we avoid such tragic grief? What about a brightly coloured immortal Furby with teeth? Apart from the not dying, they’re just like any other pet, including farting and shitting real pellets. You can even connect them up to apps on the Internet. Welcome to the Purrpetual Petz, product of the Funki conglomerate, on sale at all good toy shops.

Cut to: Oregon, where Cady’s bickering parents are taking her on a skiing holiday. They argue about not having chains on their tyres, although they only learned about this possibility a couple of hours ago. They also continually shout at Cady for spending too much time on her phone with her Purrpetual Pet. Just as mom is telling Cody that it’s probably time to turn her machine off, we see the oncoming lights of a snow plough, just about the plunge into their car.

Cady is orphaned, and sent to live with her aunt Gemma, a software developer at Funki. It is not unreasonable to say that Gemma does not possess many maternal instincts. Besides which, she’s got a deadline coming up. The competition have copied the Purrpetual Petz and her asshole boss is insisting that she design something even cheaper. She would much rather spend her time on her pet project – an AI doll called Megan (Model 3 Generative Android).

All this means that Gemma does not have time for is spending time with her grieving niece. There are no toys in the house apart from early prototypes, which lose 99% of their price (I was going to say value, but that’s not right) if you remove them from their packaging. When Cady asks Gemma to read her a story, you can see the sign of relief on the aunt’s face when she realises that downloading a book on her iPad means she can spend time looking at technology, not the kid.

Gemma takes Cady and M3GAN into work, where they interact beautifully. Dollar signs appear in the asshole boss’s eyes. Gemma is told to drop everything and prepare for product release in 2 weeks. Problems with M3GAN (one of Gemma’s colleagues says she “doesn’t look confused, she looks demented”) can be dealt with later. Whatever else the film does or does not have, it has a clear understanding of how safety regulations really work under liberal capitalism.

The more that M3GAN interacts with Cady, the more she develops the sarcastic vocabulary and TikTok dances of a pre-teen girl. Meanwhile, Gemma increasingly uses the doll to ask/tell Cady to behave, for example, by putting glasses on coasters. When Gemma makes such orders, her words seethe with a passive-aggressive to control Cady’s life. M3GAN can make similar requests in a sing song voice which explains how water gets trapped on the table.

M3GAN has a fairly predictable plot, especially if you have seen the trailer. So, yes, while the doll starts out by being perfectly obliging, she ends up taking her command to protect Cady a little too literally, and ends up setting out on a murder spree. And yet the film has a great sense of pace, which means that we largely anticipate an outbreak of violence which doesn’t happen. Rather than viewing mindless violence, we learn how Cady can form an attachment to her electronic friend.

It is also worth saying that, unlike many films in the genre, M3GAN takes care to write fully developed characters. It is true that stereotypes abound, but these are stereotypes which reflect reality. So, Gemma’s asshole boss asks someone to write him some PowerPoint notes which make him sound like he knows what he’s talking about, his underling is nauseatingly sycophantic, and from the opening scene onwards, we are confronted with ridiculous marketing bollocks.

Most importantly for me, although Gemma is depicted as a career woman and an incompetent parent, these characteristics are not not linked. Cady’s parents, with their social media ban, are also incompetent. The woman at Summer Camp with the “misunderstood” son who tells her to fuck off is incompetent. Even the social worker who is brought in to help Cady with the loss of her parents cannot cope when Cady’s grief overwhelms her and she charges with a pair of scissors.

The film does not seem to be arguing that career women make particularly bad parents, but that adults as a whole are pretty crap. M3GAN is allowed to go on her murderous spree and retain Cady’s support, because the girl has just lost her parents for fuck’s sake, and no-one is able to help her deal with her grief. M3GAN’s success at communicating with the girl is more an indictment of the failure of anyone else to talk her as a human being.

One thing I don’t think I’ve said enough yet. As a film, M3GAN is hilarious. There were several moments when the whole room just burst into laughter. Sometimes I missed the exact joke – I don’t know if it’s a sign of my age or my taste that I didn’t recognise Sia’s hit Titanium, but even I got that it is funny when sung in a doll’s voice. So, even if you don’t think this is your sort of film, there’s probably a few belly laughs in it for you as well.

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