Karen Gillan and Lena Headey lead a colourful, action-packed and violent outing that offers plenty of enjoyment and well-choreographed spectacle. However, it ultimately acts as just enough paper to cover the derivative, half-baked cracks that Gunpowder Milkshake shows in abundance.
With Gunpowder Milkshake, Doctor Who and Marvel-alum Karen Gillan is given a chance to shine front and centre at the head of her own action-packed vehicle. In this spotlight, she stars as Sam, a professional assassin who is forced to go into hiding after a failed job. Gillan is joined alongside Game of Thrones star Lena Headey, who portrays Sam’s mother, with the two joining forces in order to save themselves and take back their past lives. With a premise like this, consistently accelerating entertainment is often around each corner. However, while definitely a thrill ride, Gunpowder Milkshake is still a bumpy one.
What immediately powers through with Gunpowder Milkshake is Navot Papushado’s bright, lively direction and eye for visuals. For a title as fun and ridiculous as this one, it’s only right that Papushado replicates such feelings both visually and tonally. Sets and locations are doused and drenched in fluorescent neons and luminous hues, heightening each sequence to eye-popping capacity. It elevates what could be viewed as just another generic, mundane assassin thriller to something with much more allure than expected. Papushado even shoots seemingly simple dialogue scenes in inspired fashion, with one particular lengthy conversation being performed in an apparent single take. There’s no need for Papushado to even do this, and so to see a creative way to approach scenes like this is genuinely impressive.
His direction leads to some fairly well-executed and creatively thought out action sequences. One prominent example being a sequence that takes place in a private hospital which lends itself to some wonderful physical gags, all the while being a riveting action set piece. There are also plenty of other choice scenes here and there that similarly showcase the film’s keen eye and ability to capture exciting set-pieces. Many of these set-pieces are occupied by a very strong group of performances within Papushado’s film. The main group of delightfully exaggerated, over-the-top female assassins elevate the cartoonish side of Gunpowder Milkshake, with Gillan’s stern quality and the more charismatic approach of the remaining cast resulting in a fun juxtaposition of performances. When Gunpowder Milkshake leans into its vibrant, imaginative side, it’s a real treat. However, it doesn’t do this frequently enough.
Fun and energy aside, Gunpowder Milkshake is sadly, and too obviously, living underneath the roof of its influences. Shades of John Wick and Léon: The Professional feel so overbearing that they only make the already existing issues within the half-written script more apparent. While the central ensemble dynamic is charming whenever on screen, the characters that make up the ensemble feel too much like disposable caricatures to carry the story. Gillan’s character feels too underwritten to sell the ideas that the film shoots for. Her relationship with Lena Headey’s character, who is really wasted in this, doesn’t feel developed enough, and so their emotional beats together often come across as unearned.
It feels like a waste of an all-female team that never quite manages to make a big impact given such context. There are efforts to reinforce its feminist overtones, but it never manages to do anything interesting with them, and so ultimately feels like a missed opportunity to hammer home such ideas. The core group and their relationships with one another just aren’t nearly as tight or cohesive as they ought to be in order to result in a sturdy emotional connection.
Even the big villain of the piece, played by Ralph Ineson, doesn’t bring any sense of threat to the central ensemble. He acts as another example of this film’s characters being poorly written and underutilised. Of course, a hyper-stylised, neon-infused action flick doesn’t necessarily need to present fully rounded, three-dimensional characters – especially not when it’s as well directed as this. However, Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t really do enough to justify why you should invest in this story beyond its beautiful visual presentation. And, considering that this promises a unique feminine edge, it’s a shame that it doesn’t do an awful lot with its premise.
Gunpowder Milkshake is a rousing, albeit imitative, romp which offers a visual vibrancy that plenty of contemporary action films don’t quite produce anymore. It’s just enough to almost brush its messy, shallow screenplay and lack of innovation under the rug. Without a director as visually expressive as Papushado and its strong female cast, Gunpowder Milkshake would turn out just a little too frothy. Thankfully, it just about manages to make each sip worthwhile.
Words by Eddie Nourse
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