When I saw the first trailer and promotions for Gunpowder Milkshake, I was immediately drawn in. Vibrant sets? Check. A stunning cast? Check. Violence? Definitely check. As Netflix begins to offer more original films audiences are getting more chances to see expansions in genres they love and for me, the excitement has been watching female-led action films that pull no punches. Directed by Navot Papushado and written by Papushado and Ehud Lavski. Plus, when I talk about a stunning cast, the film stars Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, and Paul Giamatti.
Gunpowder Milkshake is all about Sam (Karen Gillan), an elite assassin who also happens to be the daughter of an elite assassin. At 12, her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey) was forced to abandon her, leaving Sam to be raised by The Firm — a ruthless crime syndicate that her mother also worked for. Now, 15 years and a lot of emotional mishaps later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps and is quickly shown as an expert in violence, taking down a mob of men with nothing but her dual-wielding pistols (though the film cuts away, so, we have to assume it). She is efficient and loyal, a one-woman clean-up crew for The Firm’s messes. But when a job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an 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 aunts, The Librarians (Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino).
From the jump, it’s clear that Gunpowder Milkshake knows what tropes it will play with. In the film, we get elements like a trained killer betrayed by their organization that has become standard revenge fair. And then it takes that and throws in the familial dynamics of a long-gone mother and an eventual reunion. Additionally, we get the elements of a traditional Western where our hero finds a child and takes them along for the ride where they grow close. In these ways, Gunpowder Milkshake is stunning. It is an exciting take on genre elements that sets it against vibrant sets that use neon lights and inventive library book rooms. There is a whimsical element that is juxtaposed against the bullets and blood that weaves through every scene. And with that whimsy comes deadpan humor that works—a dark sort of camp that shows and doesn’t tell.
That said, Gunpowder Milkshake is light on the action for the first act, choosing to cut away before big firefights that make them feel somewhat hollow, especially when men in the genre would have been allowed to showcase their physicality in a one-versus-many fight sequence alá John Wick. Additionally, there are a number of moments of fight choreography that feel slowed down and break the immersion. Gillan’s Sam is capable, but she moves slowly with the henchmen fighting her matching it. Now, The stunning visuals and expert car chase in a parking garage make up for the lacking elements in the action sequences.
The strength of the film is when the three generations of women come together in the final act, though I wish we got more time with them all together throughout the film. Badass women being badass, using chains, hammers, big guns, dual-wielding knife pistols, and taking on men twice their size in a library is a cap to the film that is well worth the watch. Had the film been a high-octane push of action all the way through, it would feel more like the genre as it stands today, and truthfully, it would have allowed Gillan to stand equal to the other women on screen. While Gillan is a great actor in her role as the quiet and surly hero like any good Western (or Kurosawa film for that matter), her action sequences don’t match the veracity of what is done by Yeoh and Headey and their doubles. This makes the action feel uneven, even when all are fighting in an extended sequence which, while amazing, has our main character being outshined by Yeoh and Headey.
As a concept and a foundation, Gunpowder Milkshake is perfect. It’s a return to the action-western-revenger-dark comedy genre blend like Kill Bill but also boasts a cast of diverse women in control, with agency, and offers them the screen time to kick ass. That said, all of that only comes to play in the third act while the first two acts are build-up that drag slightly. That doesn’t mean that Gunpowder Milkshake is a miss, it’s just not the pace I expected given the marketing. In truth, GUnpowder Milkshake is a slow build-up to a bombastic finale and if you come in fresh, letting the neon, blood, creativity, and killer librarians rush over you, you’re in for a stellar ride.
Gunpowder Milkshake is available now exclusively on Netflix.
- Rating - 6.5/106.5/10
As a concept and a foundation, Gunpowder Milkshake is perfect. It’s a return to the action-western-revenger-dark comedy genre blend like Kill Bill but also boasts a cast of diverse women in control, with agency, and offers them the screen time to kick ass. That said, all of that only comes to play in the third act while the first two acts are build-up that drag slightly. But that doesn’t mean that Gunpowder Milkshake is a miss, it’s just not the pace I expected given the marketing. But if you come in fresh and let the neon, blood, creativity, and killer librarians rush over you, you’re in for a stellar ride.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.