Gunpowder Milkshake  Review – A colorful albeit forgettable blast of feminist entertainment
Female assassins are a thing now. Not sure if Lucy brought it into fashion, or was it the mainstream treatment in Phoebe Waller-Bridge helmer Killing Eve, but it’s really getting on my nerves now. If this week’s Netflix attraction Kate was not an example to see why these things aren’t working anymore, then I don’t know what is. The biggest problem that these films have is that they don’t have fun with their B-movie premise. Movies like Kate and The Old Guard have this stoic and brooding central character that is out for cold blood because well that’s what they do. While these premises work, the nth iteration of the same story, without creating a world or character of their own, becomes dull after a point of time. Thankfully, Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t tick those boxes.
The film begins and ends at a roadside diner. In the neon-drenched, colorful world that Papushado has woven, the diner is considered a sacred place – both for the inhabitants and the gangsters and assassins who populate it. With a no-gun policy that allows them to ‘lighten their load,’ this is a perfect foreshadowed setup for a showdown. Anyhow, this initial sequence is meant to show us the origin of a killer. Before our protagonist becomes Sam (Karen Gillan) – a female assassin to reckon with, she is shown as a gentle, innocent girl who is worried about her killing machine of a mother Scarlet (Lena Headey).
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She is on the run from some Russian men responsible for her husband’s death and she is here to bid Sam goodbye. The two of them share their favorite milkshake before a bloodbath ensues and Scarlet vanishes. Fast-forward 15 years and Sam is now a ruthless assassin with her latest job leading her into trouble.
The film also builds a really silly but entertaining world around these people. Sam works for an organization that calls itself ‘The Firm’ and her killing off the son of an affluent criminal has brought her to crossroads with both parties that are necessarily run by men.
Also, in the mix is a little 8-year-old girl (8 and three-quarters if you ask her) Emily played by Chloe Coleman. Her father has stolen from ‘The Firm’ in order to pay ransom for the kidnapping. Sam is sent there to retrieve the money before she accidentally kills him. With nowhere to go, Emily tags along with Sam as the two of them form a cute little bond with each other.
Now, the film isn’t particularly inventive with its script or even the tone it is going for. There’s a lot of Tarantino here – both in style and substance, but what makes this extremely entertaining is just how well it knows what will make it work. Gunpowder Milkshake is a frothy, delicious, candy-like female assassin movie that has a blast with the pulpy world it creates. The result is a bombastic explosion of feminist energy that is as silly and as fun as you would want it to be.
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Basically, the film has fun with its tropes in ways that matter to its agenda. It makes fun of imprudent and impulsive men without turning the important characters into messed-up stereotypes or stick figures. To top that off, it also manages to touch an emotional chord with its messaging of not glorifying violence without succumbing to anti-violence jargon.
The film also works extremely well because of the sub-plot that includes ‘The Library.’ In another piece of world-building, the film treats guns to be synonymous with books and the library as a place where these assassins can come back to when in need of some ‘knowledge’ (read: help). The place is run by three women – Madeleine, Florence, and Anna May played by Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett respectively. Without ruining anything, the showdown at the Library is the feminist center of the film that really makes it all the more fun.
That said, Gunpowder Milkshake is instantly forgettable. It is fun while it lasts and the chemistry between Sam and Emily is really charming, but let’s be honest – this is no Kill Bill or even the first John Wick. The memorable or WTF action sequences are mostly absent and while they don’t bring the film down, this absence really hampers its impact on a viewer. However, what Navot Papushado lacks in gusto, he makes up for in his stylish quirkiness. This is overall a proper action entertainer that does just that.