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Gunpowder Milkshake
Image: StudioCanal

Film

Gunpowder Milkshake : An Acquired Taste for Action Enthusiasts

Gunpowder Milkshake Review

Gunpowder Milkshake is a mindless treat with a bitter aftertaste, but it still goes down better than half the action movies this industry considers entertainment.

The film follows Sam (Karen Gillan), a very dangerous woman with very dangerous men out to get her after an assignment from a shadowy entity called The Firm goes sideways. The plot is vague, if only so the overtly stylistic and graphic violence can take center stage.

And take center stage it does as this over-the-top western ‘shoot me up’ muddles through its one-note story in search of a means to ditch the plot altogether. This film may try too hard to fit in with the likes of Kill Bill and Baby Driver’s wackier lenses, but it’s hardly delusional in its search for purpose.

Gunpowder Milkshake understands all these films ever truly need to succeed is an eye-catching title and pure unadulterated violence.

Gunpowder Milkshake
Carla Gugino as Madeleine, Karen Gillan as Sam | Cr: Reiner Bajo/© 2021 StudioCanal

Gunpowder Milkshake is an acquired taste.

The candy-coated world this film inhabits is undefined by its architecture or by reason. It clings to kitschy world-building, over-the-top neon-lit sets, and dry humour to leave an impression. That impression is much less a candy-coloured bruise of bewilderment and more of a fleeting scratch on a genre that can and has done worse.

The fights come in waves of graphic wall-splattering bloodshed, but not in the brutal and unrelenting style viewers are used to. These carefully orchestrated battles are slow and overly stylistic to the point the punches barely register after a few minutes. The music follows this leisurely approach to mayhem with a soundtrack of slow rock and Sherlock-esc instrumentals. It’s not an ascetic that encourages heart-pounding action, and it’s not off-the-wall bonkers entertainment either.

The biggest issue one will have with this addition to the action genre is its inability to completely own its weirdness. The dialogue is meant to mimic the fast-talking ways of a hardboiled detective noir but comes off unbearably stiff.

This film has something special in Gillan as the no-nonsense lead, and it’s a shame to see her emotional range stifled at every turn by a script that refuses to let its cast of skilled actresses break from their stone-cold killer ruse. Just because the action genre has thrived off the likes of emotionless male anti-heroes does not mean Gunpowder Milkshake has to do the same to stay relevant.

Gunpowder Milkshake
Michelle Yeoh as Florence, Angela Bassett as Anna May, Carla Gugino as Madeleine | Cr: Reiner Bajo/© 2021 StudioCanal

In fact, the one thing that does give Gunpowder Milkshake relevance is its cast of killer women. Even with nothing but nonsense, they give this weak plot purpose.

Gillan is a fierce lead, who has proven herself a formidable action star thanks to strong performances in the Jumanji and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises. She balances a heavy load of hand-to-hand combat sequences with admirable resourcefulness. Her character’s lack of planning and audible frustration when things don’t quite pan out her way allow the condensed humour to surface in the unlikeliest of places.

Her more human and likeable sides are drawn out by the addition of her estranged mother, Scarlett (Lena Headey), and Emily (Chloe Coleman). Both characters round out the ensemble of capable female heroines by bringing an important depth to what little dynamics exist through their connection to the film’s leading lady.

The Librarians understandably make this movie. Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett are a triple threat of colour-coated outfits, sly expressions, and weaponized talent. They are the likeability factor of this action thriller’s elegant nose-bleed aesthetic and the beating heart of the female ensemble.

Madeliene’s final stand against McAlester’s nephew strikes one of the few emotional cords of this film, not because the audience gets to know these three badass Librarians through meaningful development but because they know how to steal a scene. Enough for this plot to pack a real punch when Madeleine declares it was nice to have a child back in the library, or when the silence between Scarlet and Anna May reveals more than dialogue ever could.

Gunpowder Milkshake
Karen Gillan as Sam | Cr: Reiner Bajo/© 2021 StudioCanal

Somewhere along the way, this film relinquishes its death grip on wacky stunts and bruised plot to become something much bolder and bloodier. It is in this second half of the film that Gunpowder Milkshake finally finds its footing — just in time to burn its most elaborate set to the ground.

There’s no denying the fifteen-minute stand-off that spans the entire library is a crucial turning point for this film and quite possibly its greatest achievement next to the retro diner showdown that follows.

The surface-level plot wasn’t doing this mindless action thriller any favours, so it’s refreshing to see this group of pissed-off women abandon it completely for pure, uninterrupted bloodshed. They embrace the elegance of the library’s grand foyer and the whimsy of the themed children’s section to create a deadly dance of grotesque brutality. The ladies split up to wreak havoc across multiple levels of this expansive playing field, and each frame finds a way to showcase an individual fighter in their own uniquely punchable way.

It’s a masterpiece of choreographed combat, ballet-like precision, and a sophisticated reflection of the tasteful mahogany banisters and shelves this tyranny is tearing to shreds. The library is a crucial character to introduce in the final act of this film and a necessary fatality to demonstrate the masterful lengths this lethal empty-headed thriller is capable of going to when it stops pretending to be capable of more.

In its own bizarre way, Gunpowder Milkshake may do more for the accurate portrayal of libraries than Emilio Estevez’s The Public ever did.

Gunpowder Milkshake
Lena Headey as Scarlet | Cr: Reiner Bajo/© 2021 StudioCanal

This thriller is a mixed bag of action, laughable physicality, and intriguing cinematography that’s just weird enough to have viewers believe there’s something worth sticking around for when this cast of femme fatales isn’t being undersold.

This condensed candy-coloured mess of artistic liberties and fake blood won’t fill watchers with immense joy or purpose, but it will distract in the way many of us need entertainment to these days.

Yes, Gunpowder Milkshake is as unremarkable as the leading women it refuses to fully embrace, and it constantly chooses style over substance. However, there’s something about this film’s half-witted violence that comes as a reprieve once you lower your expectations considerably.

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Written By

Alicia is a writer, editor, and library technician from Ontario, Canada. Her passion for TV and film can be credited to superheroes, workplace comedies, and coming-of-age stories.

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