Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake is a film that attempts to entertain the audience with a female-led ensemble, who are a group of assassins that band together to protect a young girl. Part of the movie deals with the estranged reunion between a mother and daughter, while the rest is filled with action sequences that mimic Zack Snyder’s slow-motion shots. The movie seems like a knock-off of movies like John Wick and Kill Bill, and the supporting characters have little to no purpose and backstory as to how they all met. While there are humorous moments between the characters, it fails to stick the landing. As for Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, she does not know whether to be stoic or serious. Despite the amazing cast, the movie lacks the narrative drive and necessary chemistry between the characters.
The movie follows the story of Sam (Karen Gillan), who is abandoned as a child by her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), an assassin for a mysterious organization named The Firm. Not long after, she is recruited by the head of the HR department Nathan (Paul Giamatti) and trained to become an assassin. On a mission to eliminate one of The Firm’s targets, Sam finds herself in trouble when she encounters Emily (Chloe Coleman), the 8-year old daughter of that man she is tasked to kill. Through her mission, Sam is reunited with Scarlet, and they seek refuge with The Librarians, a group of weapons dealers comprised of Florence (Michelle Yeoh), Anna May (Angela Bassett) and Madeline (Carla Gugino), all of whom are acquainted with Sam’s mother. When a gang of thugs are sent after Sam, Scarlet, and the Librarians, they all come together to protect Emily and reunite with old acquaintances.
Gunpowder Milkshake’s plot is not clear from the beginning. It is muddled and lacks the narrative drive for the character’s to be coming together to save each other. There are so many questions that are unanswered as to why Scarlet did not leave Sam with the Librarians instead of Nathan. For a movie that supposedly promises to bring an action-packed female-led movie, there is no chemistry between them. It seems as though the actors are working with what they have got written for them. There is no emotional attachment between the female characters and the lack of narrative backstory between the Librarian and Scarlet’s history makes their reunion so dull. When Scarlet is reunited with her friends in the library, the moment which is meant to be sentimental and confrontational, is interrupted by a gang of thugs who are about to attack the establishment. The movie avoids the development of such impassioned scenes by inserting fight sequences to take over any emotional moment between the characters, thus allowing no room for them to grow. Moreover, the reunion between Sam and Scarlet, which should have been a highly emotional moment, is replaced with witty humour and bickering between the mother and daughter duo. Per the logic of this movie, Sam has never questioned or looked for her mother in the past 15 years and when they are finally reunited, it does not provide the kind of sentimentality that it should offer.
Due to these issues with the characters, the script is dull and the dialogue falls flat. There are some continuous gags with the Librarians, especially with Madeline reminding to watch her tongue as there is a child present amongst them. Anna May replaces curse words like “motherfucker” and “asshole” with “motherfudger” and “jerks’’, and this happens a couple of times in the movie. These lacklustre scenes between the cast do not provide funny moments as these gags just do not stick the landing. There are no moments that would make the viewer remotely laugh as there is nothing substantially humorous to offer.
As for the fight sequences, it’s action-packed and Gillan uses every weapon there is to fight these thugs. When Nathan sends assassins to take down Sam, the scene is captured in a slow-mo panoramic shot, as they wrestle and fight using bowling balls and tasers. The set design is alight with colourful, neon bisexual lighting that was often used in Atomic Blonde. In another scene where Sam, Scarlet and the Librarians are fighting against a group of thugs, the scene is somewhat distracting as there are too many characters running around with weapons. In a way, these action sequences between Sam, Scarlet and the thugs are a moment for them to bond, but because of the lack of emotional proximity and attachment, there is little contribution to their relationship. Even when Scarlet says that she would do anything to protect Sam, there is no familial connection between them. A few seconds later, they return to attacking the thugs with no emotional development.
The continuation of capturing slow-motion panoramic shots are once again captured inside a diner, which is the showdown between the thugs and the female ensemble. Florence, Anna May and Scarlet fire their guns and smash one of the thugs’ heads into a milkshake, splashing jelly-like blood on the table. This type of execution is very anti-climatic and looks lazily executed considering the violence that is shown in the movie. Instead of panoramic shots, it would have been more entertaining to watch a sequence where it does not use an overzealous editing style as it takes away the fun of watching an entertaining fight sequence for the audience.
While the movie is full of feminist promises, Gunpowder Milkshake offers some of the most insulting moments of female empowerment. With an all-male crew, it simply does not promise the kind of narratives that are meant to be portrayed in this film. Perhaps it might be because the movie was written by Papushado and Ehud Lavski, it’s all over the place and struggles to deliver worthwhile banter between the cast. It’s frustratingly inconsistent and does not provide any kind of chemistry between them. In addition to this, the movie’s attempt to present female empowerment does a terrible job of sending that message across. When the leader of The Firm and his thugs confronts Sam at the diner, he makes a speech about being a feminist but not being able to tolerate his daughters. If this movie was aimed at the female audience, it was poorly executed. Gunpowder Milkshake’s cinematographer Michael Seresin and Papushado seem more focused on other aspects of the film. The library has children-themed rooms where fights sequences take place, all lit in the colours that the characters are costumes, and the constant neon-coloured set designs that grabs the viewers attention. Perhaps these creative choices are meant to make room for the movie’s dull moments.
Gunpowder Milkshake offers some entertaining moments despite these tedious issues. It has greatly choreographed fight sequences and car chases as they zoom and reverse in a parking garage. However, because of the poor set-up and world-building, Headey, Basset, Yeoh and Gugino are not given enough screen time. Despite the movie’s colourful set designs and catchy needle drops, it still does not combine any of its elements into a proper action-thriller flick. Gunpowder Milkshake downplays a lot of the seriousness and narrative drive and uses violence inflicted on women to show the unfairness of the patriarchy. However, when female characters are not developed to tackle female empowerment, it ultimately squanders the message.
Edited by: Raayaa Imthiyaz