After her parents die in a car accident, Cady (Violet McGraw) moves in with her single aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) – who is initially not much fun even though she works for a toy company … she doesn’t like Cady playing with her collectibles, leaving drinks off a coaster or taking up any of her time because she’s working on a big project, but she does feel some sense of family duty. Then, something Cady says – ‘if I had a toy like Bruce, I wouldn’t need any other toys’ – inspires Gemma to a conceptual breakthrough on her project, and she sinks a load of development funding into M3gan (mime by Amie Donald, voice by Jenna Davis), a robot doll companion who’s generations more sophisticated than either Bruce, the robot she made in college, or Chucky, the obvious precedent for a killer doll franchise. Actually, the Chucky M3gan is most like is the one voiced by Mark Hamill in the remake – she evolves and becomes self-aware, and also turns ruthless and violent for logical reasons rather than something as simple as being possessed by a serial killer.
It’s an issue with the solidly entertaining film that Akela Cooper and James Wan (the writing team of Malignant) and Gerard Johnstone (director of Housebound) stick so closely to the template of superhuman pal-goes-nutzoid movies (quite a lot of the beats evoke Deadly Friend, few people’s favourite Wes Craven film). Gemma and Cady bicker and bond as Cady goes through a cycle of dependence to rebellion with M3gan (who can gauge a child’s changing emotions from facial expressions). There are some terrific left field moments, which establish the sort of things we’d like more of from M3gan in the sequel: her bounding on all fours like a wolf as she chases a bully through the woods, floppy-limbed dance moves and needle drops (her terrifically apt signature song is ‘Titanium’ by Davd Guetta ft Sia), the quiet way she poses as a child to get lost in a crowd, and the Aliens-inspired return of Bruce for the finale (a development set up early, but given an unexpected, admirable twist which powers up a character who was in danger of getting lost).
It’s always fun seeing yappy bitey dogs, nasty neighbours, bullies and corporate creeps get done away with by a robot girl in a midwich cuckoo wig and floppy cravat – so there’s that. I think M3gan vs Orphan just bumped Clover vs Jean Jacket in my Most Wanted Crossover Movies list.