Released: 15th July
Seen: 28th July
Normally I start these things with a little fun thing that will provide some context for the review, either on why the film exists or on a bit about the genre or even just a bit about my relationship to the material in order to try and paint a broader picture. Today, just a little mild housekeeping before I talk about Gunpowder Milkshake. My home state of NSW has been in lockdown thanks to covid for the last month, which is why I’ve had the time to basically do one of these every day and why you might’ve spotted I missed out on some recent releases like Space Jam 2, Fast & Furious 9 and Escape Room 2. Well, that lockdown’s been extended throughout August so I’m gonna miss a bunch of those releases too, which is particularly annoying cos I know some of the big ones are gonna be on HBONow and I can’t access that (I think) so please just keep my home state in your thoughts, hopefully we can get things on track and return to normal… anyway, let’s talk about a film that only released in cinemas down here but was also on Netflix in the US so was therefore relatively easy to access.
Gunpowder Milkshake follows the young assassin Sam (Karen Gillan) on what she assumes to be just another job, to get some money that was taken from her bosses and return it to them. Upon finding, and shooting, the man responsible she learns that he did it in order to get the money to rescue his daughter Emily (Chloe Coleman). Overcome with the need to help, Sam goes to rescue Emily which ends with the money vanishing. Now Sam’s bosses have written her off completely, meaning that anyone who wants to kill her now knows she’s not being protected. The only thing that Sam can defend herself with is her incredible skills as an assassin… and possibly her estranged mother Scarlet (Lena Headey).
From the start you can tell that Gunpowder Milkshake is trying to be a slightly more stylised comedic version of John Wick (everyone wants to try and be John Wick nowadays), with the intense violence, frequent use of slow motion and unnatural coloured neon lighting that turns everything into a rainbow of hyperviolence. It has all the elements that could make for a fun and interesting take on the genre and there are times when it achieves that but mostly it only gets about halfway to where it’s clearly trying to go.
Where Gunpowder Milkshake works best is when it gives the audience the thing that they obviously want, namely a set of legendary women kicking every ass that they can find. Seeing icons like Lena Headey, Angela Bassett and Michele Yeoh running around with guns and knives doing large amounts of violence to random mafia men is a lot of fun, mostly because those women are complete badasses who make everything look amazing. Karen Gillan manages to hold her own with more than a few incredible scenes and a lot of energy behind it. When it’s any combination of these women fighting together and sharing banter it can be a lot of fun, problem is it never really seems to go far enough.
The stylism is also sometimes just off. Every 5 minutes or so there’s a protracted slow motion shot, to the point where you could comfortably lose a half hour of Gunpowder Milkshake by running it at normal speed. This in turn leads to moments where the actresses doing badass things look silly because slow motion will do that to you if not used carefully. I also have to admit, I can’t describe any of their personalities because most of it just felt like the actresses turning up and portraying the image of them that we know them for.
With the exception of the slow motion portions, the action scenes are mostly pretty enjoyable. Again Gunpowder Milkshake very clearly lifting from the John Wick handbook of extreme violence done quickly with whatever’s on hand and it works well. Some of the fight scenes are dramatic and intense, others are comedic gems (watching Karen Gillan fighting in a hospital with people who she’s previously fought and put on crutches and wheelchairs is a highlight) and I want to enjoy it a lot more than I did but the elements that were great are weighed down by the slower elements that just keep holding it back. You can feel Gunpowder Milkshake wanting to go off and be a hyper coloured stylistic joyride but every now and then something slams on the brakes and keeps it from being the gasp inducer that it should be.
Gunpowder Milkshake is fine, it’s the exact film that you turn on Netflix to watch to kill an afternoon. It’s got plenty of good performances, fun lines and action scenes to hold your attention but god damn this cast deserves so much more than what they got. I hope that this does well enough to maybe give us a sequel where they can ramp everything up a few notches and really show off how badass and fun this could be because the potential is clearly there, it’s just not fully realised yet.