REVIEW: Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

Karen Gillan as Sam in ‘Gunpowder Milkshake.’ Photo: Reiner Bajo / Netflix / StudioCanal.

Directed by Navot Papushado — Screenplay by Navot Papushado & Ehud Lavski.

While the Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s John Wick from 2014 was a fantastic and emotionally involving revenge action film, I didn’t initially like the idea of making it a franchise. Eventually, though, I warmed to the idea and grew to really appreciate the Keanu Reeves-led stylized action franchise, and I became invested in the films’ epic underworld which was surprisingly complex. With the success of Stahelski and Leitch’s action franchise, similar films were produced to varying results. Unfortunately, in spite of its impressive cast, Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Mikshake feels more like an imitation of Stahelski and Leitch’s impressive world-building than a successful original film.

Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake is action film that feels very much inspired by the complex underworlds described in Leitch and Stahelski’s films. The film follows Sam (played by Karen Gillan), a master assassin doing the family business even though she is estranged from her mother, who, while on a mission, ends up feeling like she has to safeguard the daughter of one of her victims. Sam’s guilty conscience also leads to her breaking some rules, and, as a result, soon even the company that she works for is out for blood.

Although there are plenty of fans of the film, I can’t say that I personally like David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde all that much, even though I appreciate certain things about it. For instance, I thought that Charlize Theron was fantastic in Atomic Blonde, which also featured some excellent action sequences. Both Atomic Blonde and Gunpowder Milkshake are female-led action films with some notable stylistic choices (the lighting in the bowling alley-scene in the first half of Navot Papushado’s film is particularly eye-popping), but that is pretty much were their resemblance ends, to me. Leitch, unsurprisingly, has a stronger grasp of how to shoot and choreograph action scenes, he and Stahelski’s films do a better job of handling the film’s tone, and where John Wick succeeds as an emotionally involving revenge film, Papushado’s film lacks that emotional involvement in its plot about an assassin’s guilt.

Where Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron delivered perfectly calibrated physical performances in their action films, Karen Gillan, it pains me to say, fails to command the screen, as she delivers a surprisingly flat performance as her film’s master assassin. In fairness, though, Gillan is let down by the fact that ‘Sam’ is a much too thinly written character. I got more out of her performances in her Jumanji-films, in which she is also asked to be somewhat of a action star. In Marvel Studios’ films, as Nebula, Gillan captures that robotic character with more than a hint of menace perfectly, but it was not a good idea to transfer some of that stoicism to this character.

Papushado’s film has, frustratingly, also saddled several great and experienced actresses — Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett — in supporting roles that completely wastes their talent. Lena Headey’s subplot feels a little bit unnecessary, and while the idea of having a library populated by gun-wielding librarians — a sisterhood of assassins, as it were — feels like something that is pretty perfect for a John Wick-film, I don’t think it works as well as it ought to in this movie.

Ultimately, Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake pales in comparison to the films that it is imitating. Although it, in spurts, does feature some visual flair that I greatly appreciated, the rest of the film just isn’t up to scratch. It wastes several great actresses, is led by a star giving an unconvincing performance, is tonally unsatisfying to me, and, most egregiously, it is just not emotionally involving.

4.5 out of 10

Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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