Film Review: Leading Actresses Pack Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice in ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
To protect an 8-year-old girl, a dangerous assassin reunites with her mother and her lethal associates to take down a ruthless crime syndicate and its army of henchmen.
Director: Navot Papushado
Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett
Runtime: 114 minutes
Gunpowder Milkshake is a film that looks exactly how it sounds — explosive action played out to an almost excessively saccharine aesthetic and vibe. It features an impressive line-up of leading women and seems to scream girl power.
The film centres around Sam, played by Marvel star Karen Gillan, a professional assassin, who ends up the guardian of an eight-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman) when a botched assignment ends with her accidentally killing the girl’s father. Throughout the film, Sam, her estranged mother Scarlet (Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister, Lena Headey) and a trio of female assassins called ‘The Librarians’ work to protect Emily from a powerful crime syndicate, creatively named The Firm.
Right off the bat, the film’s action sequences are particularly fun and eye-catching. Gory violence meets absurdist humour as the sequences are over-the-top in a distinctively Quentin Tarantino fashion. The graphic violence, which plays out with a cartoonish theatricality, is also reminiscent of Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). For an assassin movie, the fight scenes do not disappoint, and feature no shortage of a wide range of weapons shown in dynamic action shots. Similar to Kingsman, the action is partially animated, allowing bullets to ricochet, knives to fly, and punches to be thrown with striking visual finesse.
Hand-to-hand combat is neatly choreographed, performed with a magnetic elegance by all leading actresses. Gillan is an action superstar waiting to happen — her performance in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers films as the (mostly) antagonistic Nebula already cements her ability to channel the stone-cold badass who could throw some serious punches.
Headey, of Game of Thrones infamy, is as glamorous as ever, even mid-action and while covered in blood. Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino are equally stunning. And who could take their eyes off Michelle Yeoh, who, in the climactic fight scene, strangles a man twice her size then casually flicks one of his teeth out of her hair. This lineup of powerful women does not disappoint when it comes to the action.
Papushado’s direction must be applauded for producing a female-led action thriller film that ultimately did, in fact, feel female. In a genre that is undoubtedly male-dominated, Papushado did a great job at creating ruthless female assassins, instead of simply casting women in the same stereotypical characters found in the gangster genre. His hitwomen are cutthroat and harsh but remain warm and empathetic towards the people they care for nevertheless — a quality that is often neglected and excluded from the ‘female badass’ narrative. *Cough* Captain Marvel. It’s a refreshing spin on the genre, reminding us that yes, you can be both sensitive and tough. Shocker.
Papushado soundtracks the fight sequences with upbeat pop music that occasionally covers the sound of whacks and thumps. Along with his signature long takes and wide-angle shots, he makes the sequences uniquely spectacular and fun to watch. The real star of the film, it’s impossible to pry your eyes away from the action bursting with colour and panache.
However, the stylish action sequences and impressive stunts can only go so far in making up for the awkwardness of the film’s messy attempts at character development and comedy. The pitfall is in how the film tries to do everything at once: Papushado teeters between trying to emotionally connect with the audience using the subplots revolving around Sam’s relationships with Scarlet and Emily, and trying to produce a light-hearted action piece that can afford wacky stunts and dialogue. It’s not entirely impossible to achieve a film that does both — many films have before — yet it’s an extremely sensitive equilibrium that Gunpowder Milkshake simply did not attain.
The screenplay is also burdened with lots of overly dramatic and clunky dialogue, which often veers toward sounding like a teenager trying to quote their favourite Shakespearean play. As brilliant as each actress is, none of them can save the script’s clumsy lines. Gillan, as skilled a combatant as she is and as riveting her fight scenes are, cannot carry emotional depth while maintaining her ruthless killer facade. It makes her character confusing and oddly unsettling, and not in a good way. Furthermore, there is little attempt to develop any character, even the leads — leaving us with minimal incentive to care for them and their battles as the film progresses, and it can seem draggy after a while. This is a huge waste of each actresses’ acting abilities and an unfortunate dismissal of the chemistry that is apparent between them.
The film clearly draws influences from many genres and aesthetics. There’s the dramatic dialogue and choreographed violence of old-timey Westerns and of neo-noir films, wrapped up in a bubblegum pop, almost Riverdale-esque visual aesthetic and topped off with a hint of slapstick physical comedy — all while trying to be a female-empowering, badass film.
It’s a lot to take in and unpack, and I would argue that the best way to enjoy this film is to not attempt the latter at all — it’s to be appreciated at a face level and nothing further. If you’re looking to be entertained with cool visual effects, action sequences and an overload of pop culture aesthetic references, you’d be best served with a tall glass of Gunpowder Milkshake.
Gunpowder Milkshake opens in theatres today, 22 July 2021.
We’re currently running a giveaway with Shaw Theatres. Check out the post below to see how you can stand to win two complimentary movie passes for any of their theatres — but hurry! Giveaway ends Friday, 23 July, 11:59PM (GMT +8).