Directed By Navot Papushado
Starring – Karen Gillian, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino
The Plot – Sam (Gillan) was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (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 Colemaan). 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 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.
Rated R for adult language and Strong Bloody Violence
– Stimulating style. Blessed with an abundance of neon-luminated color schemes and three-dimensional backdrops, “Gunpowder Milkshake” immediately captures our attention with frame leaping beauty to cement one of the more transfixing experiences that Netflix has ever bottled to production. When the film isn’t captivating us with these vibrant strokes of blue’s, pink’s, and red’s that dominate the backdrops of the movie’s luscious scenery, it exemplifies itself in ways that enhances the depiction of some truly kick-ass action sequences, specifically the various homages to Akira Kurosawa, whose iconic film “The Seven Swords” more than paints a respectful influence in the way it’s rendered by shadows and long take sequencing. As far as the backdrops are concerned, everything is rendered with a polished exuberrance that allows each of the various settings to influence its appearance accordingly, all the while persisting with a 60’s style design in bowling alley’s, diner’s, and even libraries that solidifies the transformative experience that the film, quite literally, goes for.
– Edgy material. In reaching for the critical R-rating that these movies require to fully flesh out the stakes and consequences of their world, the movie is able to bring back with it a series of brunt blows and endless chaotic devastation that it uses accordingly to keep the captivation of its audience satisfied. In this respect, the violence itself is a bit cartoonish at times, echoing all the more with a cheesy, laughably bad computer-generated series of blood spurts so artificially delivered upon that you can’t help but shriek at the devilish delight dispersed upon its victims. In addition to this, the language isn’t as overdone as you might expect, and there’s absolutely no sexualization of any kind, which instead values its female protagonists as the deviously dangerous assassins that they are presented as, over just another group of pretty faces that the cinematography exploits shamelessly.
– Innovative action. Much of the charm elicited from the movie’s abundance of action set pieces stem from the variety of backdrops, which enhance and elevate the approach of fight choreography every thirty minutes or so. This not only helps to keep the originality of the physicality freshly innovative on its way to a near two hour run time, but also requires our protagonists the kind of versatility that effectively renders their intelligence to think on their feet against the urgency of the ensuing adversity. The sets themselves play terrifically into the various tools of the trades that stem from their unique environments, and the choreography itself, while evidentially timed with some actors more than others, does for the most part supplant a crisp, smooth-flowing consistency that attains believability in the context of the scenes they accommodate.
– Rhythmic musical score. Adding to the variety of set designs and various fighting techniques is the equally eclectic series of compositions from Haim Frank llfman that audibly paint intrigue and environmental personality in every scene they accompany. From the early going, the strumming of electric guitar and even electronic synth marry a union of tragic misfortune and disparaging uncertainty to the emergence of the complex conflict, creating a noir style embodiment to the movie’s initial movements. From there, the edginess of rock-n-roll becomes apparent, as iconic female artists like Janis Joplin, Karen Dalton, and Kay Starr not only open up the excitement of the sequences they trail, but also exude an underlining layer of feminist heroism that serves its agenda prominently without feeling distracting or overbearing to the integrity of the sequences persisting in the foreground.
– Fiery ensemble. I’ve been a fan of Karen Gillian for a long time, and a role like Sam is everything about the talented actress that bottles her talents while enriching a believability that more than makes up for the size and weight deficiencies that she lacks against her opposition. Gillian brings along her signature sarcasm and deeply emoting eyes that give a great deal of insight an emotional complexity about the character, all the while sifting through an array of bodies with top notch fight choreography that proves once more she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Complimenting Gillian’s performance are those of Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Chloe Coleman, and especially my favorite, the great Carla Gugino as the most dangerous librarian you will ever come across. Each of them invest a big screen quality to their performances that help to transcend the Netflix production of the feature, while bottling a rich chemistry in bond between them that speaks volumes about the long history of these group of dangerous women.
– Rare feats. While I agree with the complaints of limited exposition being present in the film, I will say that the overwhelming ambiguity of the characters and surface level world-building makes sense in the context of the realm of a profession cloaked in various mystery. When you compare this film’s approach to something like “Rob Zombie’s Halloween”, which gave away far too much about its iconic character, you appreciate that much of the mystique and ambiance of these imposing female heroines have been left untouched from the appeal of the story, allowing their set of skills to surprise you in various ways for how they approach the magnitude of every situation. Neither of these handicaps hindered my investment to the narrative, and instead serve as the one example of limitations that actually play into the realm of the environment, giving just enough away in rules and double entendres meanings that peak your initial intrigue.
– Tonal imbalance. Even with measured stakes and vibrant personalities, the clashing of emotional transitions left plenty more to be desired in a film that, even by the end, is still trying to find its grasp in kinetic energy. Part of the problem stems from the humor being less effective to my personal subjectivity, instead feeling like a children’s film by the time its Eight-year-old character materializes on-screen, complete with horrendously flat dialogue and empty threats that make this movie feel like a parody at many times during its inferior second half. It’s matched with several gruesome scenes that echo a semblance of tragedy for its respective characters, including a duo of watery-eyed diatribes between characters that aren’t complimented or attained accordingly when placed only moments after these silly instances of excessive levity. It often leaves this film feeling like a drama that leans into its comedy instead of vice versa, and leaves this film scrambling for a dominant identity that it fails to attain because of too many compromising ingredients.
– Stretched narrative. Considering this is a nearly two hour film, it’s a bit obvious how little of material there was in the condensed series of movements throughout the film. There are many reasons for this, mainly because the movie is far too long at 115 minutes to begin with, but beyond that it’s the magnitude of the conflict itself persisting without little to no struggle after the first hour of the film. It’s all pretty one-sided in its mental game of chess, and as for the physical, the backlash of great action is that it comes at the sacrifice of a lack of depth in the story, which could’ve used more balance of time devoted to it when compared to the movie’s physicality, which is certainly the movie’s dominant aggressor. With more emphasis delivered to the beats of the story, it would’ve fleshed out a far more compelling narrative, but as it stands this movie’s over-stylized emphasis leaves very little attainable substance in the measure of its movements.
– Fair fight. Another element of distraction to my enjoyment of the picture was a complete lack or urgency in the physical peril that persists as a result of a couple glaring problematic instances. The first is the weak antagonists, which unfortunately includes the great Paul Giamatti emoting through a role that, honestly, anyone could’ve been cast for. These Dudley-Do-Wrong’s of the screen couldn’t effectively tie their shoes, let alone trigger an ounce of uncertainty from the elements of their arrival, making everything that follows feel as predictably bland or uninteresting as anything I’ve seen in cinema this year. The second, and far more problematic ingredient is the overwhelming lack of vulnerability with these female assassins that never tests or suspends the voice in the back of your head that shouts that everything is going to be alright, regardless of the overwhelming odds that they constantly face. Sure, they suffer bruises and blows sporadically throughout the engagement, but nothing that ever tested their cool and calm demeanor during the heat of the moment. When there’s no urgency or vulnerability in a film, there’s very little suspense that develops from it, leaving these action sequences as temporary road bumps to the happy ending inevitably materializing just off in the distance.
– Obviously preachy. Definitely not as heavy-handed or as intruding as the 2018 “Black Christmas”, but on its own merits there’s a lack of subtlety in the intention of “Gunpowder Milkshake” that feels unnecessary in execution of its feminist motivation. I myself am in support of such a cause until it breaks immersion in my experience to any film, and that’s unfortunately what you have here. It’s not bad enough that the conflict sets men against women characters entirely, but even worse is that the male characters themselves lack any instance of mental prowess to outsmart their female opposition. On top of this, there’s great lines like the one delivered by Headey in the climactic diner battle, where she states “We’re tired of sitting on the side lines. It’s time to band together. Let’s do this, girls”. Feminism can add a lot to a female-led shoot-em-up, but when done wrong, like in “Gunpowder Milkshake”, can exert the same kind of division spawned by toxic masculinity that promotes their own agenda without appreciating the value of the other side.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+