Karen Gillan stars in her own version of John Wick with Gunpowder Milkshake. Absurdity and fun can co-exist in this action genre where bullets can fly and the protagonist can tackle dozens of thugs to walk away, sometimes without a scratch.
Sam (Gillan) learns, via flashback, that her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), is an assassin, when armed men are quickly dispatched in a diner before Scarlet skips out on Sam, setting up the story fifteen years later.
Now working for Nathan (Paul Giamatti), the point person for a crime syndicate called The Firm. Sam is hired to murder a man who stole from The Firm. First, Sam meets Anna May, Madeline, and Florence, three former accomplices of Scarlet, who assist the younger killer with “clean” weapons to carry out her assignment.
Tensions are high as Sam shoots the thief in a hotel room, learning the man stole the cash to pay kidnappers for his daughter. Sam pulls off the exchange for Emily (Chloe Coleman), but the transaction turns sideways with the men dead and the money destroyed in the fire fight.
Meanwhile, Nathan leans Sam killed a criminal leader’s son on a different job and surrenders her to avoid a turf war. Saddled with Emily, Sam fights for her life, protecting the girl before being reunited with Scarlet.
The violence escalates with the women in the middle of the “gang war,” guarding the young Emily and trying the end the contract on Sam’s life.
Anna May, Madeline, and Florence are played by Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino and Michelle Yeoh star as the librarians, some of the best and worst moments in the film. Weapons hidden in books set up some fun gags, but the “I know it must have been hard for you” speech from Anna May is dreadfully cringe.
Gillan is great as Sam, cheeky yet sincere, transitioning from “dance fighting” in the Jumanji films, or as Nebula in the MCU, to headlining her own actioner. Keeping her from injuries to her face is absurd, even distracting from the experience.
Is GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE a great film or void of ridiculous film cliches – of course not.
Director Navot Papushado jumps into the action genre with an 80’s and 90’s style of gun fighting, a strong nod to Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi films and a great use of set pieces.
Unlike Marvel’s Black Widow, the strong feminist themes are supplemented with Sam’s motherly approach to protecting Emily. Rachel Weisz’s Melina was an unmitigated disaster of a parent….a monster, orchestrating the kidnapping and brainwashing of the protagonists, so Sam seems Saintly with her naïve attempts to censor her language and protect the young orphan. In fact, the film is much more similar to The Professional than other films.
“Oh yeah, well…I got my Mom,” Sam says to the threat of the “Bad guy army,” making me laugh a bit.
The scene when Emily dons the headphones and then the stream of bullets come raining down is AWESOME, worthy of a 1/2 star in of itself.
It’s as unbelievable, borderline ridiculous at times, to see Gillan take down larger and stronger men easily as John Wick engaging dozens of henchmen and somehow surviving. Like other films (Widow included), Hollywood seems reluctant to let their female protagonists getting beat up, overcome major injuries etc…as Atomic Blonde so successfully executed. This was nonexistent until the very end of the film.
That realism is the necessary step which must be taken to garner believability and thus; success. Sam and Scarlet should have taken some blows during the library climactic battle, but also had some realistic banter: “Nice throw” (after Scarlet throws and takes down a baddie with a knife) “Thanks, not bad for an old lady” – if only.
Well, “It’s all over Baby Blue.”
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE EARNS 5 STARS OUT OF 10
Add 2 stars if you can just enjoy plotless “Shoot ’em up” movie, basically Atomic Blonde-lite.