—Spoilers below for Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake—
Gunpowder Milkshake centers around Sam (played by Guardian of the Galaxy standout Karen Gillan), who was abandoned by her mother Scarlet (Game of Thrones’ Lenda Headey). Rather than finding a safe occupation like an insurance agent, Sam follows in her mother’s footsteps by becoming an assassin.
After defying a kill order on a money retrieval mission, Sam finds herself caring for a young child (Emily, played by Chloe Coleman), whose father she kills early in the film. However reasonable this choice may seem given Sam’s personal experience losing a parent, it leads her into a fight for both of their lives for the remainder of the film.
Considering its cast list of powerhouse female actresses, I expected Gunpowder Milkshake to have a little more oomph in the character development department. The lack there of was especially glaring in the case of the “Librarians” (a group of women who work in a library—but in this case, where all the books are filled with guns and other miscellaneous items that killers might need. Fun right?). This group includes Anna May (What’s Love Got to Do With It’s very own “Anna Mae,” Angela Bassett), Florence (Crazy Rich Asians’ Michelle Yeoh), and Madeleine (Spy Kids’ Carla Gugino).
While the actors’ portrayals are fantastic, I wish we had more moments to understand how their characters came to be. We are not provided with much information on their agenda or how long the organization has been established. The only backstory that we are granted is that Sam and her mother used to go to the library before she was abandoned. We see that the librarians, specifically Anna May, have some major disdain for Scarlet once she returns, but little other context is explained.
The film does seem to have some similarities to other murder-assassin films I’ve watched in the past. The primary antagonist of the film is Nathan (Straight Outta Compton’s Paul Giamatti), the head of The Firm (a John Wick-High Table-esque organization of men who employ assassins). Just like the titular Wick, once both Sam goes against the grain of her superiors, every man with a gun is out to kill her.
Another aspect that I found familiar was the Hotel Artemis-style hospital that Sam goes to try and save Emily’s father’s life after shooting him. You have to give up your gun upon entry, presumably to eliminate unnecessary violence that any of the visiting assassins might unleash. Even the diner in which Sam and Scarlet share their last milkshake together in the first few minutes of the film takes on the influence of Hotel Artemis’ no violence/no weapon rule.
The film also seems to have taken some notes from Proud Mary (the 2018 American action thriller starring Taraji P. Henson). One similar aspect is that in spite of their jobs, both Mary and Sam have a conscience when it comes to the safety of a child. That safety is especially important considering both of them killed the fathers of the children they later took under their wings.
I’m sure Gunpowder Milkshake intended to have a message pertaining to feminism, but unfortunately, much of it is lost among bloodshed and gun fire. Yes, the film culminates in all of the women eventually having to fight a huge mob of men (possibly a metaphor for how imbalanced the world is in terms of patriarchy), but there could have been many more effective and nuanced moments of female empowerment included across the runtime. Thankfully, the film has enough positive qualities to overcome this missed opportunity.
One of those more significant pluses is the heavily stylized design of Gunpowder Milkshake. The film displays vibrant, vivid colors, giving it something of a neo-noir aesthetic. The sets are complex and exciting, in some instances taking on a more active role in injecting comedy into the action scenes taking place within them (in the library fight scene, one can almost feel Sam’s frustration as she frantically searches through books in hopes of finding a suitable weapon to defend herself).
In between scenes of high-octane action, Gunpowder Milkshake excels at providing moments of quirky relief. Whether it’s Sam’s assassin pursuers getting high on laughing gas, or kidnappers-for-ransom trying to kill each other over money that they just recieved, the film does have some laugh-out-loud-able moments—and who doesn’t need that?
With all of the blood and grotesque killing scenes that tend to dominate films in this genre, there’s always room for a break. Even Kill Bill (the Tarantino-helmed tale of a scorned female assassin) had comic relief interspersed amongst its countless murders.
Overall, I’d give Gunpowder Milkshake a 7/10. In spite of its flaws and seemingly derivative aspects, it was ultimately an enjoyable entry into the assassin-on-the-run genre. So if that’s the sort of film you’re into, Gunpowder Milkshake is currently available on Netflix. Happy watching!