Gunpowder Milkshake is a somewhat entertaining but spotty female empowerment
action film which is reminiscent of Kill Bill, the
Wick films and most of all
Birds of Prey. The film has been extremely popular, and there are already
plans to shoot a sequel.
It was directed and co-written by the acclaimed Israeli film maker, Navot
Papushado who made a mini film that was included in horror anthology The ABCs
of Death, as well as the feature length Big Bad Wolves, which Quentin Tarantino
called the best film of 2013.
Gunpowder Milkshake could not have had a much better cast. Dr. Who graduate and
Guardians of the Galaxy star, Karen Gillan, is fine playing Sam, a hired
killer with a conscience. She is ably supported by Leana Heady as her
morally ambiguous mom. Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeah, and Angela Bassett are also
featured as members of an all-female league of assassins. Everyone is usually
far better than the material at hand.
It is always good to see the Malaysian actress, Michael Yeah in anything, but
it is disheartening to see one of the best action stars ever (see Crouching
Tiger Hidden Dragon, Supercop and The Heroic Trio) reduced to playing an older
generic Asian woman who spends all her time shooting people in a role which
could have been played by anyone. I hope she has a better part in Marvel's Shang-Chi, and The Legend of the Ten Rings. You can also see her
actually act in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians.
Paul Giamatti who has made a whole career playing mostly scumbags is the HR
(Human Resources) director of the criminal firm who initially seems to like Sam
and acts fatherly towards her, but he ultimately must answer to his bosses, so
he must have her killed or risk death himself when she fails in a mission.
The film is about a girl named Sam whose mom is a hired killer who (surprise)
grows up to be an assassin. She has not seen her mom for years and has angry
feelings toward her. But there is more to the story than meets the eyes and her
anger toward her mom might be somewhat misplaced.
The film’s trajectory changes when the now grown-up Sam commits a
compassionate act. She blows a chance to complete her mission to retrieve money
that was stolen by the mob because she feels sorry for a little girl named Emily
and risks everything to save her. Even worse she accidentally kills the son of
her Mafioso employer. Of course, half the planet comes after her to kill her for
getting soft and betraying her mission.
So all the time she is trying to avoid violent death, she is trying to be a good
role model than the little orphan girl she saved. An ongoing joke is despite
exposing the little girl to constant barrages of the bloody, gut-wrenching
violence the assassins refuse to swear and they use words like “fudge” in front
of the girl.
There is a spectacularly inventive sequence that is so riveting that it may make
the film worthwhile for some people. At one point Sam gets injected with some
kind of drug that makes her lose control over her arms. So she asks Emily to
tape a knife to one of her hands and a gun to the other, and with limited
mobility she must face down a trio of killers with her martial arts know-how.
Since Sam temporarily can’t drive, she must also guide Emily who has never
driven before through a high-speed car chase. This scene is as exciting as
anything I have seen in any recent action film.
Another really good moment occurs when a sweet mom and daughter assassin team
look into each other’s eyes during a scene of carnage and the daughter says,
“There is no one I would rather be killing people with than you.” The film could
use more scenes and lines like this.
All this may bring up some questions in the viewers. Just because Sam let her
maternal instincts take over and did one good deed does this make up for a
lifetime of assassinations? Does the fact that the women in the film kill only
misogynist hoods make it all ok? The viewers must temporarily turn off part of
their brains to see anyone in the film, even momentarily as heroes. It is kind
of like The Wild Bunch because one group of killers is just a little bitter than
Unfortunately, the script seems a little half-baked at times, and it frequently
veers into non campy stupidity. I was able to accept the absurdities in Kill
Birds of Prey more because they were so over the top, we knew we were
watching camp plus Tarantino's work is so smartly self-referential. But the plot
and script here are just an excuse for sometimes well-choreographed fight scenes.
Despite some good early moments, the film devolves in the end into an endless
scene of the all-female protagonists improbably slaughtering endless seas of
male hoods. While this is initially exciting (for the first half of the film)
after a while it made me numb. I know that expectations are lower for Netflix
films, there must be something better on somewhere.
Overall, this film falls into the region between good and average. On some days
and under the right circumstances I could even see myself giving this film three
stars. If you loved
Birds of Prey and the second Suicide Squad you might like
But the film is too much like what is named after. It tastes good and it goes
down well, but it is not particularly filling or nutritious (at least not in any
intellectual sense), and it is not particularly memorable. Even though the film
works half the time and has some memorable and genuinely exciting action scenes,
it left me feeling somewhat empty and wanting more.