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Gunpowder Milkshake 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Navot Papushado
Writers: Navot Papushado, Ehud Lavski
Stars: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino
Gunpowder Milkshake, the latest by co-writer-director Navot Papushado, is endlessly entertaining despite a few plot hiccups. The action-packed film has all the bravado of the John Wick movies — including the rules and the somewhat off-putting hospitality of the world in which the assassins dwell — with the flair of a neo-Western. There is a lot to love in this film that often trades gun fights with proper butt-kicking, awkwardly humorous situations, and tons of impressive props. Led by a fierce group of women assassins, what Gunpowder Milkshake lacks in story it makes up for in style and a focus on intergenerational relationships.
Sam (Karen Gillan) is a contract killer who works for The Firm, a crime syndicate that operates a lot like a corporation — complete with suited board members calling the shots at the top. Fifteen years prior, Sam’s mom Scarlet (Lena Headey), herself a former employee of The Firm, is forced to abandon Sam after killing a Russian criminal; it put a target on her back and so she left Sam in the care of the organization’s HR representative, Nathan (Paul Giamatti). What Scarlet doesn’t realize is her daughter falls into the same life despite her connection to the Librarians, a trio, Sam’s “aunts,” (Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino) of highly-skilled assassins who were once Scarlet’s friends, being severed. When Sam ends up in the middle of a dangerous situation following a job gone wrong, she must protect an eight-year-old girl, Emily (Chloe Coleman), from other assassins on both sides of the competition who are now after them.
Where Gunpowder Milkshake excels is in its action sequences. Papushado employs slow-motion sequences where appropriate, with wide shots used to show off every detail about the battles the assassins engage in. The film sustains its momentum by putting Sam in situations she has to cleverly find her way out of — paralyzed arms are an issue at one point, but taping weapons to her hands works out in her favor. Later, a library becomes a battleground as Sam’s mother and friends use chains, a gun with a surprise knife built into its side, and hammers to dole out punishment on their attackers. Hand-to-hand combat and a multitude of unique weapons are central to the film’s action set pieces, with a preference for this kind of fighting style over shoot-outs being a superior choice. Paired with fantastic fight choreography, the film’s stunt sequences are never dull or drawn out for longer than they need to be.
Gunpowder Milkshake also touches upon the generation of women taking care of each other and having each other’s backs. Through thick and thin, disagreements, and frustration, Sam has backup; the lessons and knowledge Scarlet and her aunts instill in Sam are similarly passed down (intentionally or not) to Emily, whose watchful eyes take in everything happening around her as she picks up her share of information and skills. The screenplay (co-written by Ehud Lavski) falls short, however, in expanding upon these themes and there are aspects of the plot that don’t necessarily work or make all that much sense — why Nathan was tasked with caring for Sam instead of her aunts after Scarlet leaves town and why Sam didn’t keep in touch with the Librarians are just two of the film’s more mind-boggling aspects.
As far as performances go, the main cast does a tremendous job elevating the material, with Lena Headey and Angela Bassett, in particular, doing the most with their limited exchanges. (Bassett says “fudge” with so much passionate frustration in one of the film’s funniest scenes.) Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino are underutilized, though their screen presence is lofty nevertheless. Karen Gillan leads the pack and there are a lot of Nebula-like attributes (her character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) she transfers to Sam, which work when the scene calls for it. But while she nails the gruff, badass assassin persona, Gillan falters by keeping up the rough exterior at the expense of conveying any deeper emotions. Still, the choice to cast her and Headey as a mother-daughter duo is inspired.
The film’s universe certainly feels lived in, however, with a hospital assassins can go to for injuries, its 50s-style diner where the waitress holds onto weapons during visits, and corporate rules that are as self-serving as the all-men partners of The Firm. It’s very John Wick in that regard, with the assassins engaging with the awkward, stuffy politeness that comes with being in the field of contract killing. Gunpowder Milkshake could have used a bit more polish for its central relationships and overarching narrative, which are its weaker points. Scarlet comes back into the story eventually, but the resolutions for the fractured relationships she leaves behind don’t feel earned, nor are they given enough time to be as fully developed as they should be. That said, the film makes up for some of the missed storytelling opportunities with its stylish, exciting action sequences, and its swift pacing, all of which combined make for a fun, overall enthralling time.