If you like stylized violence, fight scenes with dazzling choreography, and a plot that features kick-ass women giving it back to an army of bad guys, chances are you will really enjoy GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021), a new action movie starring Karen Gillan and Lena Headey, now available on Netflix.
I know I certainly did.
When she was just eight years-old, Sam (Karen Gillan) was abandoned by her hitman mother Scarlet (Lena Headey), and wanting to be just like her mother, she grows up to be an assassin as well, working for “the Firm,” her contact being the man her mother trusted to watch over her, Nathan (Paul Giamatti). When a man unwisely steals from the Firm, Sam is hired to kill him and retrieve the money. She finds him and puts a bullet in him, but as he is dying, he reveals that the reason he stole the money is his eight year old daughter Emily (Chloe Coleman) is being held for ransom by a group of thugs.
Against her better judgment, Sam brings the man to a doctor to try to save him, while bringing the money to the thugs to rescue his daughter. She rescues Emily, but in the ensuing gun battle, the money is lost in an explosion. When she reveals this to Nathan, he relays to her that he can no longer protect her. He tells her that on her previous assignment she inadvertently killed the son of Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson), a powerful mobster, and McAlester now wants her dead. Because the Firm is unhappy with Sam for not returning her money, they will not protect her.
So, Sam finds herself fighting for her own life and protecting Emily’s. She seeks out the help of her mother’s former assassin friends, Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Florence (Michelle Yeoh), and Anna May (Angela Bassett), who work in the library as “librarians.” They agree to help Sam, and since Scarlet is being played by Lena Headey, you just know that at some point she is going to return to help her daughter, which she does, setting the stage for an all out shoot-em-up hand-to-hand combat finale that is as explosive as you can get.
There are a lot of reasons I really enjoyed GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE, but chief amongst them is its style. The action scenes here are expertly choreographed by director Navot Papushado, and not only that, but they are insanely creative and humorous. I was laughing out loud for a lot of these intense action sequences.
Take for example, the four thugs who kidnapped Emily. They are all wearing monster masks: Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy. So, it’s a hoot seeing these guys make a mad dash to escape in their getaway car wearing these masks, just as it is in the ensuing shoot out with Sam. Watching Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy toting guns and acting like goons in a Quentin Tarantino movie had me laughing out loud. And when Dracula and Sam fight to the death, she grabs a shank and drives it through his chest, and before you can say “Christopher Lee,” blood gushes from his chest and mouth. It’s that type of movie.
Or consider this scene where three hitmen get a second chance to kill Sam when after she beats the living crap out of them, they go to the same doctor who treats her, and he tells them she’s on her way back there. But before this, they had been generously partaking in the doctor’s laughing gas, so now you have three assassins who are preparing to seek vengeance and finish the job, while laughing uncontrollably. The doctor jabs Sam with a drug that makes her arms go limp. So what she does is have Emily tape a knife to one hand and a gun to the other, and she goes out into the hall to battle the three laughing assassins sitting in a swivel chair which she uses to spin around wildly so that her arms can fly horizontally, enabling her to use the knife and the gun. It’s a crazy scene, and it all works so well.
Or the car chase afterwards where Sam still can’t use her arms so Emily has to drive.
The action scenes do not disappoint. The film is R rated, and so there is copious bloodshed and violence, all of it stylized and choreographed. None of it all that believable, but in this case that’s not a detriment.
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE compares favorably to a movie I reviewed last week, JOLT (2021) which starred Kate Beckinsale. They both share similar themes and styles. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE has the better action scenes and the better script, and simply enjoys a higher level of creativity and oomph that JOLT had.
Karen Gillan is excellent as Sam and easily carries this movie in the lead role. While ultimately the fun over-the-top action sequences aren’t believable, Gillan certainly is as Sam. I easily believed she was a kick-ass assassin. Maybe it’s because she’s had some practice, as she plays Nebula in the Marvel GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS movies.
Lena Headey is also very good as Sam’s mom Scarlet, but she makes less of an impact since she’s not in the movie as much. Headey of course these days is most known for playing Cersei Lannister on GAME OF THRONES (2011-2019).
I also really enjoyed Chloe Coleman as Emily, as she and Gillan share a nice camaraderie together.
It was also fun watching Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett as the three “librarians.” All I can say is, I want to visit their library!
Ralph Ineson makes for a dastardly heavy as Jim McAlester. He’s not on screen all that much, but when he is, he says and does all the things that a villain should say and do. Michael Smiley also makes his mark as Dr. Ricky, the weasel of a medical man who turns on Sam and tries to get her killed.
Speaking of that sequence, Ivan Kaye as the leader of the three “laughing” assassins enjoys some precious moments in the insanely wild battle to the death with Sam.
And Paul Giamatti does what he always does as Nathan, which is, turn in a solid performance. Nathan is an interesting character. Sworn to protect Sam, he kinda drops the ball because he doesn’t really have the balls to stand up to the firm, yet behind the scenes he still attempts to help Sam, and as a result, there’s still an odd bit of affection between Sam and Nathan.
The screenplay by director Navot Papushado and Ehud Lavski is a good one. The dialogue is sharp throughout, and the story is imaginative and playful.
I’m sure there are those who will take offense at a plot where the good guys are all women, and the villains are all men, but they should get over it. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE works well for exactly that reason! And as someone who has been watching movies for decades, I applaud more movies that feature more women characters, especially lead characters. It’s about friggin time!
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE is one of the best action movies of the year. The action sequences in this movie are among the most stylized and imaginative I’ve seen in a while, and they belong in the same conversation with sequences from films like ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) and EXTRACTION (2020).
So head on out to your local diner, grab a booth, order a milkshake for two, and enjoy! Just leave your guns at the door. They’re not allowed. Unless of course you order a gunpowder milkshake.