This movie has had some pretty poor reviews and I’m not sure why. I’ll concede that it’s not particularly original in terms of its concept but I feel it has pushed the notions of the female contract killer a little further (if only a tiny bit) and there are some nice ideas in the settings and staging of the fights. I’ve also heard it said that the big name cast are wasted, where in actual fact they are the type of actors who are strong enough to lift the material, which they do here. On both the Total Film and Empire podcasts they even compared it unfavourably to Netflix’s Kate, which was released a couple of weeks ago and has similar themes and plotting, but that film doesn’t have an once of the personality on display here.
Gunpowder Milkshake boasts Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett and Michelle Yeoh among its players, who appear as a group of female assassins called the Librarians so called for the study centre they run, where you can pick up hand cannons alongside the literary canon and bayonets among the bibliographies. These cool and formidable women, while adding huge value to proceedings are only in support though. The star of the film is Karen Gillan.
I stated in my blog seven years ago, on the release of Oculus, that Karen Gillan would be using Doctor Who as a springboard to a successful film and television career. I’m not suggesting I was any great soothsayer (unlike Gillan in her first episode of Doctor Who), her performance as Amy Pond showed great promise. It’s taken a while for her to lead a high profile movie though. She is well known from Guardians of the Galaxy/Avengers and Jumanji but she’s also done a lot of other projects you’ve probably not heard of or forgotten she was in since she left the Tardis. Even with the critical panning, I think this film is going to open more doors for her. She is a very engaging lead and her dry yet compassionate performance holds the movie together well. She is really good in the multiple action scenes as well, including a corridor fight and a car chase where she has momentarily lost the use of her arms. It says everything you need to know that she holds her own perfectly in the aforementioned company.
The title of the film effectively lets you know what to expect too. These two contrasting words pushed jarringly together match the violent and destructive yet candy sweet and vibrantly coloured atmosphere of the whole adventure. So yes it is derivative, incredibly so in places, and it is silly, bordering on dumb, but it is a lot of fun and I think everyone involved is in on the joke. It also turns the spotlight on the peculiarity of there being an entire genre of films that celebrate and idealise those that murder for money as if they are superheroes, when Gilliam’s Sam is innocently asked if she is a serial killer only to find she has no convincing way or rebuking the suggestion.
This aside, Gunpowder Milkshake is not dealing with any deep questions but it’s an enjoyable ride in fine company. All the ingredients are there, I say drink it in.
The Ripley Factor:
What I like about this from a feminist point of view is how Sam is part of a whole group of women rather than being the one lady in a man’s world. I’m sure the movie would lean into this more with a female director but just because it could be better, doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Question: is it still fridging when they are all female?