Gunpowder Milkshake never had a chance at a theatrical run. The film’s biggest star is Karen Gillan, a talented actress with major ensemble roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as villainous half-robot Nebula and alongside Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in the Jumanji reboot films.
A major studio eyeing box office success isn’t going to put their resources into a female-led action ensemble film without a big name draw at the top of the billing and as much as Carla Gugino, Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett bring to Gunpowder Milkshake, it’s not enough to entice someone to finance getting the film onto the big screen in any significant way.
But in many ways, writer/director Navot Papushado’s first major feature is the perfect streamer movie.
Highly influenced by films like John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Kingsman and the complete works of Quentin Tarantino, Gunpowder Milkshake opts for flashy neon colors, brutal violence and simple matter-of-fact dialogue to bulldoze its way through the narrative with as little world building as possible.
The film finds Gillan’s Sam as a hitwoman on the run after betraying the organization that hired her to protect an innocent young girl kidnapped by clumsy, greedy lowlifes. When Sam and her ward, Emily, make it to a safe house, they are greeted by women from Sam’s past that prove to be key allies in a war against all comers.
Gillan is a generally enjoyable lead to follow over the course of two hours as her strong comedic timing really allows for the moments of levity to strike home well in the sparing moments they occur. A large segment of her Sam does feel somewhat lifted from Keanu Reaves’ titular performance in the John Wick series with a stoic, slightly muted monotone delivery for much of the film and a clear decision to internalize all of Sam’s childhood trauma and turn it into cold-blooded violence that anchors the film.
Despite the ridiculous nature of many of the situations the film puts her in, Gillan is able to carry action sequences with the gusto necessary to allow audiences to maintain a suspension of disbelief that makes the scenes implausibly enjoyable rather than short circuiting viewers’ engagement with the movie.
At her side for most of the running time is Chloe Coleman, who’s far more charming here than in last year’s underwhelming family action adventure My Spy. Coleman lays out Emily’s emotions bare and holds her own in scenes opposite Gillan, especially when the pair are trying to escape a slew of armed baddies in a bulletproof red speedster.
There’s a decent blend of homage and originality to the film’s many fight sequences, from a battle in a dimly-lit bowling alley with faded neon lights meant to evoke shades of Kill Bill to a fight in a hospital hallway that provides some of the most inventive choreography in several years in spite of a ridiculous pretext.
Stylistically, the action sequences vary in weapon choice to a much larger degree than the average thriller would and the film’s lone car chase scene has a distinctly original twist that is among the highlights. Cinematographer Michael Seresin does a solid job capturing moments from unique vantage points that emphasize and accentuate the bright visual color palette of Gunpowder Milkshake, but it’s often undercut by uneven editing.
It’s a significantly superior film to Charlize Theron’s Netflix action adventure film The Old Guard, but not quite on the level of her big screen hip action thriller Atomic Blonde, from which Papushado draws some inspiration.
While not among the best films of the year, the ease of access and high rewatchability make Gunpowder Milkshake a clear choice for action fans to take a chance on with their Netflix subscriptions while waiting for the next Marvel film or John Wick installment to arrive.