28th Jul2021

‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Chloe Coleman, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti | Written by Navot Papushado, Ehud Lavski | Directed by Navot Papushado

Gunpowder Milkshake tells the story of Sam (Karen Gillan), who was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey), an elite assassin, was forced to abandon her. Sam was raised by The Firm, the ruthless crime syndicate her mother worked for. Now, 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps and grown into a fierce hit-woman. She uses her “talents” to clean up The Firm’s most dangerous messes. She’s as efficient as she is loyal.

But when a high-risk job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an innocent 8-year-old girl – Emily (Chloe Coleman). With a target on her back, Sam has only one chance to survive: Reunite with her mother and her lethal associates: The Librarians (Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino). These three generations of women must now learn to trust each other, stand up to The Firm and their army of henchmen, and raise hell against those who could take everything from them.

Israeli director Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves), who’s first movie Rabies was touted as Israel’s first horror film, directs his first film in the West with Gunpowder Milkshake, a highly-stylised female-led action film that plays in the same filmic sandpit as John Wick, Hotel Artemis and Bad Times at the El Royale. A heady mix of over the top gun-fu (as we used to call it back in the days of John Woo’s The Killer & Hard Boiled) and classic film noir elements, all bathed in a neon-lit mise-en-scene.

Though to be fair to Gunpowder Milkshake, whilst the Librarians of the film and the diner the characters also frequent feels very much like an homage to John Wick‘s The Continental (and to the same extent the titular Hotel Artemis) some of the action on display here is pretty-much unprecedented in terms of live-action cinema, including the aforementioned films – with a particular sequence in a hospital feeling like something you’d see in a n over-the-top anime movie rather than performed by actors and stunt people.

Speaking of actors, Gillan’s Sam feels like an extension of her Doctor Who character Amy Pond, who always wanted to do what was right no matter the cost and had a sometimes wicked sense of humour; crossed with the sheer badass tenacity of Gillan’s role as Nebula in the Marvel universe. Sam is also cut from a similar cloth as Clint Eastwood’s man with no name – and the score of Gunpowder Milkshake reflects that in its use of spaghetti western themes running throughout. The score also has futuristic elements to it, almost otherworldly at times – which again reflects the movie, which feels very much like in the realm of fantasy; in fact back in the day this kind of over-the-top movie, with a heroine who can seemingly defy the rules of gravity, physics and nature, might have ended with its protagonist taking off their VR helmet and revealing everything we’ve seen is some sort of video game!

I terms of the rest of the cast, well director Navot Papushado makes his cast of women look, frankly, amazing. Michelle Yeoh hasn’t looked this good in a Western-made film in years; meanwhile Angela Bassett seems to have rediscovered the inner badass she had as Mace in Strange Days. Carla Guigno manages to segue her butt-kicking mom role from the Spy Kids movies into more adult fare. And then there’s Lena Headey as Sam’s mother Scarlet and former assassin…

We all know how good Headey is as an actor (hell, she even brings kudos to the role of Evil-Lyn in Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation, doing more for the character in 5 episodes than any other voice performer has done before her) and here she brings that same air of authority to her role – you really do believe she was one of the best-ever assassins, even without seeing her work – and she has superb chemistry with not only Karen Gillan, playing her daughter, but also Chloe Coleman; probably best known for starring alongside Dave Bautista in My Spy. Coleman, by the way, is brilliant here – she has the same doe-eyed innocence come rebellious nature in this film, cheekily proclaiming she’s a protege assassin to anyone who asks!

With a conclusion that leaves things wide open for a [now-announced] sequel, Gunpowder Milkshake is a fantastic feminist take on the macho action film that can only help build on the reputation of co-writer and director Navot Papushado following his incredibly well-received Big bad Wolves. Gunpowder Milkshake might not have the visceral impact on cinema goers that John Wick had on its debut (after all that film almost birthed a whole genre of its own) but Karen Gillan’s Sam easily stands up there with Keanu Reeves’ dog-loving John. Shared universe team-up anyone?

Gunpowder Milkshake is out in various territories now via Netflix. The film will be released in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema (also via the Sky Cinema Pass on NOW) from September 17th.


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