DISCLAIMER: The following review for Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake contains mild spoilers.
If you’ve ever wondered what the lovechild of Kill Bill and John Wick would look like, then wonder no longer. Gunpowder Milkshake is the answer to your question. Written by Navot Papushado and Ehud Lavski and helmed by Papushado, Gunpowder Milkshake follows Sam (Karen Gillan), a mob assassin who strays from her mission to rescue a little girl, Emily (Chloe Coleman).
Of course, in typical mob fashion, her bosses turn on her for disobeying her orders. Sam enlists the aid of her estranged mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), and the Librarians. The Librarians are an elite combat team comprised of Anna May (Angela Bassett), Florence (Michelle Yeoh) and Madeleine (Carla Gugino). Naturally, their headquarters are located in a lavish library.
Right out of the gate, the movie shows Sam in action — she kills a man for an enigmatic organization known as The Firm and then heads home to eat cereal. Sam’s rather nonchalant when it comes to her job. Gillan injects Sam with the same robotic stoicism as her character Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, but I’m not sure the script calls for that in this case.
Sure, Sam has endured a neverending barrage of terrible things in her life; however, the coldness feels contrived. In addition, Gillan appears to be focusing too much on perfecting her American accent. Some of her “snarky” dialogue comes off as forced and hollow. The moments wherein she succumbs to vulnerability and just lets Sam be are the moments that ring with the most truthfulness.
As a character, Sam is a bit clichéd. The “guarded” woman who becomes an assassin due to her circumstances has been done plenty of times over.
Headey, Yeoh, Bassett and Gugino are severely underused. Notably, the latter three. Gunpowder Milkshake feebly attempts to insert a backstory for the trio of mysterious Librarians, but it falls flat. It’s difficult to invest in characters that we essentially don’t know anything about. That being said, Gugino shines, and she gives her all with what little screen time the Librarians have.
Coleman delivers a standout performance as the young Emily. I was taken aback to see that she’s been working in the industry for eight years considering that I hadn’t seen her in anything until now. She has an immensely bright future ahead of her. Coleman imbues her work with a natural groundedness despite the over-the-top vibe of Gunpowder Milkshake.
Additionally, Paul Giamatti‘s time on screen is limited as Sam’s former boss, Nathan. But, as per his usual, Giamatti churns in a consistently good performance.
The baddies in Gunpowder Milkshake feel like your typical mustache-twirling, bombastic antagonists from an ’80s action flick. While most contemporary films attempt to add nuance to their villains, this movie harkens back to those bad guys of old.
Yes, the lead antagonist is seeking revenge for the death of his son, but we’re not privy to much else in terms of character development. These baddies are merely a plot device meant to give our protagonists an obstacle. A means to an end. A facilitator in showcasing badass fight choreography.
The score, composed by Haim Frank Ilfman, is quite jarring in some places. It feels discombobulated, as if Ilfman was trying to score a sci-fi/fantasy movie and not an action flick. There are some moments where the music is overused.
Here’s where Gunpowder Milkshake succeeds: the fight sequences. If you’re an action and adrenaline junkie, then you’ll dig the stunt work here. It’s truly a marvel. In addition, the cinematography toys with vivid neons and darkened visuals in equal measure, and to a modicum of success. There’s a stunning shot where the camera slowly pans across a bloody battle scene, and that may be my favorite shot in the entire film.
While Gunpowder Milkshake struggles to find its footing, it does take off once the entire group is assembled. There’s strength in numbers, and that definitely applies here. Especially when you have remarkable performers like Headey, Yeoh, Bassett and Gugino in your corner. The problem is that our crew doesn’t unite until 60 percent of the way through the movie. But when they do, it’s action-packed magic.
Perhaps Papushado was trying to give us an ’80s-inspired action film with women at the forefront. If that were the case, I’d be more willing to accept this for what it is. However, the movie tries to shoehorn quieter moments amid the chaotic melee of the fight scenes. Moments that don’t give the film a chance to breathe. They feel forced.
Overall, Gunpowder Milkshake is all flash and no substance. It tries to look badass for the sake of, well, looking badass. Don’t get me wrong, it does succeed in this regard. But if you’re looking for fleshed-out characters, a juicy backstory and compelling villains, then this isn’t it. What little interesting mythology the film does have isn’t fully explored.
That being said, if all you want is to watch badass women kicking ass, then Gunpowder Milkshake is the cure for what ails you.
Gunpowder Milkshake will be available to stream on Wednesday, July 14, only on Netflix.
This article was originally published 7/13/21.
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