Netflix’s latest action affair offers a lot of style but not much else. Gunpowder Milkshake pulls from a lot of great action flicks without creating anything memorable on its own. Despite boasting some slick visuals and scrappy action, the movie is bogged down by its lacklustre storytelling.
Story-wise, this is a pretty typical revenge action- thriller, that also tries to weave a mother-daughter story in between. Professional assassin, Scarlet (Lena Heady), has to leave her daughter Sam and go on the run, much to the disappointment of the young girl. In the present, Sam (Karen Gillan) grows up to be an assassin herself, working for a shady organization known as The Firm. When a mission goes haywire, The Firm turns against Sam and she is forced to protect a young girl, Emily (Chloe Coleman), while numerous henchmen are sent after them. While escaping the bad guys, Sam is lead back to her mother – and her mother’s old partners in crime (Angela Basset, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino) – where they team up and make a stand.
The plot isn’t anything special, but the real issue is the film’s dull execution. While the visuals are flashy, the storytelling is quiet generic, lacking momentum and thrills. The events never unfold in a gripping way. World-building and character motivations are very barebones. And even the tone feels off, where some goofy moments are awkwardly thrown into an otherwise very serious movie. Gunpowder Milkshake is trying to be an exciting action thriller about women kicking ass, but it never quite comes together, and mostly feels bland.
To give credit where is due, the movie’s strengths are definitely its visuals and brutal action. It’s a very good looking movie, full of stunning neon lighting and great set designs. Whether is conversations, fights or car chases, the movie always makes interesting visual choices. Meanwhile, the action is creative and vicious. There’s a nice variation of fights, with an assortment of objects and weapons used so it never feels repetitive. Each set piece is bloody and brutal. However, I did wish our heroines faced a greater challenge during the fights (they get by a little too unscathed). But, at least the action was decently choreographed and shot. I’m a sucker for some good needle drops and slow-motion, and this movie used them well, making everything look all the more badass.
Meanwhile the cast is filled with talented actors that are all criminally underutilized. There’s a lot of characters involved, but each have little screen-time and characterization. Everyone’s interactions lack engagement as a lot of the humour and dialogue falls flat. And the character relationships go down predictable directions that don’t feel earned.
As the protagonist, Karen Gillan isn’t given much to work with, sadly. Her stern, seriousness gets boring quickly. There’s a scene where she gets shot in the arm and doesn’t flinch one bit. Though it’s supposed to convey her toughness, it ends up just removing all tension and stakes. Lena Heady, however, is badass as always and has a great screen presence; I just wished we got to see more of her. Even her old partners could have been really interesting side characters, but they’re barely in the movie. Other than some cool action, Bassett, Yeoh and Gugino, disappointingly, don’t have much to do or say.
Despite its killer cast and slick visuals, Gunpowder Milkshake has provides little substance or excitement. The cool aesthetics and action aren’t enough to make up for dull execution. The movie feels like it’s setting up sequels, but it doesn’t do a good enough job of establishing its world and characters to truly hold our interest.
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