Theoretically, the Netflix-released “Gunpowder Milkshake” (dir. Navot Papushado) is what the 21st century, #GirlPower audiences want in an action movie—a kickass cast of women, some solid action scenes, mixed with a splash of heart. With all that in mind, one would think, “how can this movie possibly go wrong?” Turns out, quite a lot! While this movie certainly has its fun moments, it was ultimately what I’d imagine a milkshake made out of gunpowder would taste like. Pretty interesting to think about, but is probably better off as a concept rather than an actual item for consumption. So let’s dig in, shall we?
The story follows Sam (Karen Gillan) who works as an assassin under a group of no-good men who call themselves the Firm. In a bizarre twist of events, she finds herself protecting the adorable eight-and-three-quarters-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman), whose father was brutally killed after she was kidnapped. With the help of Sam’s estranged mother Scarlet (Lena Heady) and her aunts Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Florence (Michelle Yeoh) and Anna May (Angela Bassett), these ladies do everything in their power to keep Emily safe from the same men who assigned Sam to this operation in the first place.
So, for the good parts: the characters themselves are fun, relying on just enough tropes to make a viewer like myself feel assured of where the story’s heading. Sam is very much the typical cold assassin type whose heart only softens when she starts protecting Emily, and Emily herself is a kid that you just can’t help but like. She’s precocious in the way all fictional eight-year-old kids are, but her genuine curiosity and admiration of the women around her adds the necessary heart to a mildly violent movie like this one. Her dynamic with Sam, as well as Scarlet and the aunts, are all touching, and so these characters make a believable family unit.
I also enjoyed the visual aesthetics of this movie. Each shot is interesting to look at, and I couldn’t help but admire the set designs, some of my favorite being the iconic diner where Sam starts off her journey as an assassin, the aunts’ library which is really just a lair and the classical rich villain office that overlooks the city. Each set adds a little more to the atmosphere of the movie, at least partially making up for parts where the script or the plot lacked, which leads us to reasons why this movie is a bit of a disappointment.
Simply put, the movie’s pacing is all over the place. The beginning drags so much that I considered choosing something else to watch. Even the first few action scenes, which are meant to speed up a movie’s pace, feel awkward and slow. For example, as much as I love the idea of Karen Gillan hitting a bunch of goons with bowling balls, that whole starting sequence is stilted, and no amount of cool bowling alley lighting can hide that. Even the ultimate action scene towards the latter half of the movie—the one in the gorgeous library where Sam and her family duke it out with the villains—feels too long. Sure, I enjoyed seeing Michelle Yeoh’s character strangle a guy with a chain, and sure, I enjoyed seeing Carla Gugino use a machine gun on a few minions, but after a while, the movements feel too rehearsed, and I was tempted to skip forward to see where the plot actually goes.
Even the more emotional moments of this movie are disappointing. The most glaring example is the one in which Sam tells Emily just exactly how her father died. The buildup is practically nonexistent, and given that Scarlet and Sam were discussing how hard it would be to tell Emily about the nature of her father’s death just a single scene ago, the moment falls flat. There are other moments too, like the handful of times Sam asks Scarlet about a plan because Scarlet apparently always has a plan—but how would the audience know that? We have no real proof of that whatsoever, not even in a measly flashback to Sam’s past. There’s supposed to be tension in those scenes between Sam and Scarlet, but again, I felt nothing because I didn’t have much to go on.
Or, while we’re at it, the scene where Sam learns of being betrayed by Nathan (Paul Giamatti), a faux guardian, for the first time—the music swells, Sam’s voice gets all hoarse and angry, all signs point to “THIS IS AN EMOTIONAL SCENE,” except there’s no emotion present. I don’t think the audience is meant to feel necessarily sorry for Sam about the whole scheme of the betrayal—but one would think that we’re meant to at least feel angry for her, because being betrayed by even a faux guardian should sting at least a little. But the scene comes too fast, or maybe the scenes before don’t lead up to it well enough, because once more: there’s no buildup.
Therein lies the problem with “Gunpowder Milkshake”: there are individual, interesting components to this movie that I would love to see explored in greater detail, and goodness knows that a 114-minute-long film should have the liberty to do so. However, what happens instead is that all the interesting things get a little lost in the blandness of the script, and I wish I’d ordered something else.