Last night I was too bored to write a review of Gunpowder Milkshake.
I could have written a review of it last night, but when the credits rolled after nearly two hours, I just couldn’t. If I was going to sit down and write about it, I would have just drawn a literal blank. It wasn’t that Gunpowder Milkshake was a bad movie, far from it, but it just left me completely apathetic towards it. I got what it was trying to do, but none of it ever connected with me in the way that the director, Navot Papushado, probably intended.
There have been and will continue to be debates on what’s worse, movies that make you angry or movies that make you bored. In theory, even when you’re watching a bad movie that makes you rage and spew obscenities, you’re still experiencing emotions. You’re still feeling a feeling, while apathetic movies leave you with nothing. Is nothing worse than anger? I’d say no, but then again, I can’t really be bothered to put this much philosophical examination in a review about Gunpowder Milkshake. I just don’t want to put in the effort right now.
Director: Navot Papushado
Release Date: July 14, 2021 (Netflix)
Before we get started, I want it on the record that the title of this movie is awesome before we go any further. I love that this movie is called Gunpowder Milkshake and nothing will make me dislike such wonderful imagery.
Anyway, Gunpowder Milkshake follows an assassin named Sam (Karen Gillan), who, after a heist has gone bad, puts it upon herself to protect an eight and three-quarters-year-old girl named Emily (Chloe Coleman). Unfortunately, this causes the agency that Sam works for, The Firm, to disavow her and claim open season on killing her, mostly at the behest of her former guardian and head of The Firm’s HR Department, Nathan (Paul Giamatti). This leads Sam to fight for her life, while also teaming up with her mother Scarlett (Lena Headey), who is also an assassin that mysteriously vanished fifteen years ago for unknown reasons, the two reconnecting and coming to terms with their fractured relationship.
The first thing that will stand out to you about Gunpowder Milkshake before its obvious action beats are its aesthetics. I will give credit to the film, I like the comic-book-inspired looks to most of the sets. You have tacky 50s diners, robbers wearing monster masks, neat and pristine hospitals, and slick cars that give the film a unique look. It’s appreciated, especially when so many action movies don’t really play with the full-color spectrum. It comes across like a mix of Atomic Blonde that just so happens to take place in the world of Dick Tracy. I can dig it.
But this leads us to the problem that you probably could have seen coming a mile away with movies that put their full budget behind the art department, and that’s Gunpowder Milkshake is all style with no substance. I don’t get why movies try so hard to wow us visually but forget that they actually need to tell a story to keep us engaged with what’s going on. Yes, the world looks cool, but what’s so special about this world that makes it worth following? I could honestly just end the review there and that alone will tell you all you need to know about the movie. But no, I guess I actually have to write more about it before someone gets mad at me.
Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t really have an identity of its own since it pulls wholesale from other, better action and comic book movies. John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Kingsman, Sin City, Charlie’s Angels, are all examples that this movie took elements from and tried to connect into something thematically and narratively coherent. It’s a patchwork movie that tries to have so many styles and tones going on that it backfires and never comes together.
Some scenes are meant to be silly and self-parodying but they come almost immediately after dark and poignant character moments. Shortly after we see how Scarlett abandoned her daughter all those years ago, we then see adult Sam beating up three hitmen who she, and the film, treat like the Three Stooges. You can’t have it both ways when there’s virtually nothing to the characters or the dialogue. Characters are more cliches than anything else. A trio of librarians are nothing more than their quirks like being super formal and polite or angry all the time. I couldn’t tell you one thing about any of the characters in this film besides their schtick.
There’s no meat to Gunpowder Milkshake since it fails to make me invested in the lives of any of the cast. Despite focusing on Sam for the entire film, she barely feels developed as a person. No one feels like actual human beings or even actual characters, just vehicles for the narrative to move from setpiece to setpiece. All of its main heroines don’t feel fully fleshed out, making the fight scenes ring hollow when they try to show off girl power. Yes, all its main characters are women and that is wonderful in a market of film usually dominated by macho/manly action franchises led by macho/manly action stars, but none of that actually matters if there’s no point to it besides pointing to it and saying girl power just because the main cast is female.
Speaking of, the one thing that a movie like this needed to nail was its fight scenes. An action film will live and die by its violence and Gunpowder Milkshake’s are… fine? I guess? I don’t know, man. There are some pretty neat scenes with some cool kills, like a hallway showdown where both parties are physically handicapped for the entirety of it, but there’s no weight to any of those moments.
Case in point, one of the first action scenes in the movie takes place in a bowling alley, with Sam swinging around a bowling ball and using it to fight against the comic relief goons. But it doesn’t feel like she’s swinging around a bowling ball. Have you ever held a bowling ball with one hand? Those things are heavy, but Sam swings it around like it’s a rubber dodgeball, making those juicy moments of contact feel like bad stage combat. I did a stage combat course in college where one of our fight scenes had to be a comedic one, and I bashed someone’s head in with a bowl of popcorn and they tumbled across the stage like they were hit with a lead pipe. A movie with a $30 million dollar budget should not remind me of my college theatre classes in terms of believability.
But at the end of the day, I’m not even all that mad about the movie coming off like a wet fart. Look, I’ve seen a healthy amount of bad movies this year and this isn’t one of them. It’s competent and it gets the job done. There’s nothing technically wrong with Gunpowder Milkshake, but there’s nothing all that memorable to it either. It just exists without any real passion and its attempts at being unique feel forced at best and poorly planned at worst. I went to sleep after I saw it last night and upon waking up, forget nearly everything about it. You probably shouldn’t waste your time with this.