With Gunpowder Milkshake on my list of biggest new movies to look out for in July 2021, it’s fair to say I was looking forward to it. Looking at the cast involved – Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Guigino and Paul Giamatti – I would say my excitement was clearly justified. And then I saw the movie.
I appreciate that it’s femme-centred, and much like the Taken and John Wick films, it’s fun to indulge in films that are pure action, even if the plot is paper thin or barely exists. However, what I didn’t expect was for it to be so devoid of emotion. Gunpowder Milkshake is heavily stylized, to the point where it grates – it has more slow-mos than a Zack Snyder film (I even checked to see if he was a producer on this). It’s hyperbolic and over the top, but there is no sense of purpose driving these choices, either than it looking cool, I suppose.
And it’s fine to be amalgamation of previous films, but it needs to be done in a competent way. While movies like John Wick or even The Equalizer are about these massive killing sprees, there’s still an emotional thread that underlines the whole film. John Wick is driven to seek revenge because of his grief, and as he moves into the various action setpieces in the film, we dive deeper into his past.
Here, Gillan’s Sam has only two major aspects to her characterisation: she’s an assassin, and her mom Scarlet (Headey) left her 15 years ago. That’s it, there’s all there is. Even Villanelle from Killing Eve is more than just a killing machine; we’re shown her love for the high life, her fascination with Eve, and are given insight into her past. Gillan looks good in that retro jacket she wears for most of the film, but that’s as far as it goes.
Pray tell, why did Scarlet leave her daughter? The excuse wasn’t even a proper one, especially since the two are conveniently reunited again. She says she didn’t want this life for Sam, yet left her with Giamatti’s Nathan who runs things at The Firm. This is basically a rip-off plot point from Wanted (are you starting to see a pattern here?), except Wanted executed it better.
Gillan and Headey have no chemistry together, and their reunion made me feel nothing. There is also barely any conflict between the two, and things resolve way too easily. The most emotion I got from the film was the antagonist (Ralph Ineson) speaking to Sam about his feelings for his son – I felt more sympathy for this villainous man than I did for any of the main characters, which tells you all you need to know about this film.
The Librarians, played by Guigino, Yeoh and Bassett, are definitely badass. But they aren’t given much dialogue, and there isn’t any sense of the relationship they should have with Scarlet. The gang from Birds of Prey had more camaraderie and they were strangers before they teamed up to take down Roman. Also, the action feels assaultive rather than cohesive, with Gunpowder Milkshake choosing to bombard us with fight after fight, yet none of these sequences are memorable or outstanding.
Furthermore, the jokes just don’t land. The film thinks that having an 8 year old – I’m sorry, 8 and three quarters – child (Chloe Coleman’s Emily) correcting full-grown adults is funny stuff. Or that men getting all giggly from laughing gas is the type of content we desperately need. Moreover, Sam’s relationship with Emily doesn’t even make sense, and Emily as a character also doesn’t make sense. What kind of child barely reacts to the numerous violent situations she finds herself in? I guess this could be one of the film’s campy elements, but she is stoic in a way that is so bizarre. Oh, and Giamatti’s Nathan just suddenly transforms into his character in Big Fat Liar by the end, when his character was never established as a campy villain over the course of the film.
And because I watched Black Widow earlier on in the day, Gunpowder Milkshake’s flaws stand out even more. The former had credible female relationships, character arcs that pay off and humour that fit in with the nature of the storyline. The latter? Well, it’s a frothy milkshake, with a ton of empty calories that you could do without.
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While action films can function with barely any plot, what's unforgiveable in Gunpowder Milkshake is how underdeveloped these female characters are. Instead, there's a deluge of action sequences that will leave you looking at the clock, waiting for it all to be over.
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