Gunpowder Milkshake, the newest John Wick Knockoff, can be described like this: What if this female superhero moment of Avengers: Endgame expanded into a full two hour movie starring one of the actors from that particular scene and featuring lots of bisexual light and a cute kid? The simplicity (and arguably superficiality) of this type of girl-power-Rah-Rah energy is the fuel of Netflix’s unnatural, indecent, and often uninteresting Gunpowder Milkshake. The movie’s intermittent joys are satisfying for a moment, but then a numbness sets in, like the brain freeze that blooms after you sip the movie’s title ice.
An array of elements, apparently grown in the laboratory and compiled by algorithms, that should please everyone. Gunpowder Milkshake has a solid supporting cast. (Especially game of Thrones‘Lena Headey, who dwarfs star Karen Gillan aka Guardian of the Galaxy‘s Nebula.) There are some exciting action sequences, and the production design flickers between imitating the neon-soaked indulgence of Nicolas Winding Refn and the sparingly cool neo-noirs of Michael Mann. But it’s hard to say what Navot Papushado’s own directorial style might look like, though Gunpowder Milkshake feels like a bag with the quirks of other filmmakers, from Zack Snyder’s slow-motion tableau pans to JJ Abrams’ snap zooms. Like so many current action films, Gunpowder Milkshake is hindered by an overzealous editing style that denies the viewer the satisfaction of moving bodies. And like so many new films aimed at female audiences, it’s full of feminist promises that feel thin.
Gunpowder Milkshake does not entirely ignore the cause of women who support women. A mother protects her daughter, a woman in her twenties befriends and mentors a young girl, and three women welcome family members who left them years ago. But there’s no depth and the script never goes into anything these characters have in common beyond their gender. Gunpowder Milkshake does the bare minimum, and while it makes some wise aesthetic choices, they don’t add up to the uniqueness a popular movie like this one requires.
Because it is actually known. The film, frustratingly, is unable to level up on its obvious influences, from the John Wick franchise to the Atomic blonde (with whom it shares a production designer, art director and set designer), together with Quentin Tarantinos Kill bill and Gareth Evans’ The raid and The raid 2. At what point does the homage transition into imitation, and at what point does the imitation not provide entertainment? Gunpowder Milkshake is on the wrong side of these two questions.
Gunpowder Milkshake uses voice-over narration to introduce Sam (Gillan), an assassin who works for the company’s nebulously powerful, all-male organization. “They’ve been running things for a long, long time,” says Sam, and she and her handler Nathan (Paul Giamatti) have been killing people for them for 15 years since her mother let Scarlet (Headey), also an assassin for the company, let her them back. Their rain-soaked, purple-lit farewell took place at a diner Sam still goes to for his milkshakes after murdering her newest target, stitching up her injuries, and nurturing her terrible reputation. But when one night a job goes wrong and she unexpectedly kills someone, her life begins to untangle.
Nathan tells her that if she tracks down a person who stole the company, kills them, and gets the group’s money back, things can be fixed. Over the course of – maybe a night, maybe a few days, the film is unclear on this point – Sam joins in, but nothing is as simple as it seems. When she reconnects with “librarians” (and gunsmiths and gunsmiths) Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Anna May (Angela Bassett) and Florence (Michelle Yeoh), they remind her of her childhood and her mother. Likewise, Emily (Chloe Coleman), the daughter of one of Sam’s victims, who fills her with a sense of personal responsibility. With a target on his back, Sam must use all of her shooting, cutting, stabbing, punching, kicking, and mixed martial arts skills to fight back against enemies Jim (Ralph Ineson) and Virgil (Adam Nagaitis). “Just one more day in the office,” she says dryly, but that’s not entirely true – especially not when her long-lost mother returns.
Between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jumanji franchises, Gillan is now an action star. So why is she spending? Gunpowder Milkshake to make an ineffective Uma Thurman impression instead of cultivating their own view of Sam? The film begins with a nice shot of a red beam of light that only illuminates Sam’s eyes in a dark, blood-splattered apartment, but then his first hour drags on because Gillan confuses stiffness with seriousness.
It doesn’t help that the tone of the script, co-written by director Papushado and Ehud Lavski, is omnipresent and silly lines (“You haven’t touched your milkshake”) and phrases (guns called “clean brooms”) with utter candor to be pronounced. And the urgency with which Gunpowder Milkshake
Still, there are some thrills too Gunpowder Milkshake for those willing to ignore boredom. A fight in a dental office, with a gun and a scalpel on Sam’s hands as she twirls, spins, and takes on three bad guys, takes time to capture Gillan’s body, from her awkwardly efficient threshing to her problem solving in a split second . A car chase with Emily sitting on Sam’s lap helping her drive through a parking garage, zooming and drifting, and backing away from two chase cars is a good pace. And although the big fight scene in the middle of the film suffers from such harrowing cuts that even Michael Bay in the second hour of. could say, “Hey guys, cool it”. Gunpowder Milkshake absolutely improves when Headey, Gugino, Bassett, and Yeoh have more screen time. Her on-screen presence is so unique, and her comedic timing is so good (Yeoh’s quirky “It’s a Tooth” when she pulls something out of her hair) that they make up for the other disappointing elements of the film.
Do they redeem a bizarre ending that unnecessarily absolves Sam of any wrongdoing, but of course leaves room for a sequel? You don’t. But if Gunpowder Milkshake has so few successes, Headey’s half grin, Bassett’s furious line deliveries, Gugino’s stiff jaws as she steps behind a mounted machine gun, and Yeoh’s effortlessly cool wearing an eye patch must suffice.
Gunpowder Milkshake is now streaming on Netflix.