Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - January 07, 2022
Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

This has all the deadpan delivery, neon-lit style and gun-toting ultra-violence you would expect from a story based on a comic book – only it’s not. Navot Papushado’s original premise is set in a heightened alternate reality; one in which a shadowy, patriarchal organisation known as ‘the Firm’ employ female assassins to do their dirty work. The set-up doesn’t make any sense – and you get the feeling that the very ‘on-trend’ aesthetic may date the film relatively quickly – but it remains effective and enjoyable despite its very obvious references. Director-writer Papushado finds a good tonal balance between light and shade, something which has derailed other female-led actioners from 2021, like Jolt and Kate. Jumanji star Karen Gillan gets promoted to leading-role status and carries the film well as Sam, a killer-for-hire working for the Firm who winds up being targeted by her own boss (played by token scoundrel, Paul Giamatti) when some of their own money goes missing. In the fallout that follows, she somehow winds up caring for a young orphaned girl, which brings out Sam’s more humanistic and sensitive side. This is a creaky plot device deployed in a lot of female-led action films and far less in the male-led ones; the connotation being that men are seemingly allowed to blithely continue their killing sprees without being conflicted or burdened by the same motherly instincts. A strong central cast gives the film a really refreshing kick, with Gillan surrounded by some absolute titans all having a marvellous time. Lena Headey is delicious fun as Sam’s absent mother, who returns later in the film to form part of a multigenerational elite fighting squad. Sam is supported by ‘the Librarians’, the Firm’s weapons experts who dress like Victorian dandies and hide weapons in the books. They are played by Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino and Michelle Yeoh – all delightful company who get to litter their scenes with blood and guts especially during its mad finale. Laurent Demianoff’s fight choreography references the gun fu of John Wick and – in one particularly clever sequence in a hospital – the physical comedy of Jackie Chan. It’s not quite captured in the same, free-flowing way we have come to expect in the post-Raid era, and the editing in the action sequences is definitely distracting. So it’s not perfect by any means, but with its subtextual character interactions, fantastical sets (including derelict shopping malls, florescent bowling alleys, and art-deco libraries), and secretive world of assassins, all the evidence points towards StudioCanal making a bid for a John Wick-style franchise of its own. If they can maintain the same levels of explosive frothiness in the sequel – just like the title suggests – then that would certainly be worth seeing.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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