I haven’t been able to catch Big Bad Wolves, so I don’t have a reference to go by when discussing anything prior to the latest solo-directing work of that film’s co-helmer, Navot Papushado. Going forward, I can only speak instinctively and defer to my natural responses for a film like Gunpowder Milkshake, an assassin thriller that undoubtedly attempts at following a formula to success.
The uncertainty here, really, is that the formula isn’t its own which kind of makes things a bit problematic, even for a genre of film that’s about as escapable as breathing or standing. Assassin thrillers are fun to watch. We all love the time-honored tale of the lone killer who for some reason wants out of the life that they’ve otherwise fallen in by some tragic twist of fate, exacerbated by another twist that raises the stakes and compels you root for said protagonist right down to the bitter and brutal end, happy ending or not.
For all intents and purposes, Gunpowder Milkshake delivers exactly that, with a cast led by Karen Gillan in the role of Sam, an assassin who finds herself on the run from The Firm when two botched hit-jobs pigeonhole her into the guardianship role of orphaned young girl, eight-and-three-quarter years old Emily (Chloe Coleman). With a target placed on her back by her former employer, Nathan (Paul Giamatti), Sam’s long lost mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey) comes out of hiding fifteen years later after a preceding plot point resulted in her making the painful choice to disappear. Right then, the two must work together and join forces with a trio of all-exclusive librarians-slash-killer assassin gunsmiths to not only take out the Russian mob, but The Firm’s henchmen.
Several parts Edgar Wright, other parts Zack Snyder, Drew Goddard and Michael Davis, Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake lends an action-packed thriller filmed through a feminist lens with some cool aesthetics, and a few attempts at twee humor at times. Casting the likes of Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett and Michelle Yeoh is enough to whet the appetite in seeing big names kick ass, take zero names and simply lay waste to anyone and everyone gunning for them, and the violence is gratutious and blaring enough at times to warrant the approval of moviegoers who demand that movies “have balls”.
The austere fact here, however, is that much of what this movie has to offer doesn’t really out-perform its competitors – particularly when it comes to the action. It’s fun to look at and has its earnest moments, but there are times when Papushado gets in his own way while trying to mimic certain styles, and clearly it’s for the commercial appeal. Certain character moments feel a little more contrived than preferred, including when Emily, when introduced to Scarlett, presents herself as Sam’s apprentice, to Sam’s surprise. There’s a scene when Sam’s about to square off in a one-woman army battle in the library and before being ushered away, Emily attempts to stay with her out of caring. That kind of stuff is pretty peeving.
The upside to Emily’s role in all of this definitely serves the ending nicely, with a line Sam delivers earlier on in an elevator toward someone who betrays her. It’s quite the riveting and exciting sequel setup it tries to be, however unearned it all feels when looking back, and so there’s no real pay-off. Gunpowder Milkshake is vivid, sometimes charming and brilliant action thriller, and falling short of presenting anything outstanding kind of makes it feel more mediocre than one wishes. Try as it may, it doesn’t really push any envelopes. It really only re-sorts and re-purposes them to modest avail. Good luck, sequel…
Gunpowder Milkshake is now streaming on Netflix.