The first quarter or so of Gunpowder Milkshake feels rushed. The movie is forced to flirt along the border of just plain cheesy—where all the dialogue feels simultaneously heavy-handed and weightless, as in the trailer—and campy—where the movie knows exactly what kind of movie it is and proudly rolls with it. The plot stampedes the interesting and well-composed neon visuals into irrelevance until one spectacularly creative fight scene in a bowling alley, where Gunpowder Milkshake starts to play like a campy version of John Wick.
Director Navot Papushado shows more confidence in his directorial skills, and his movie, after the bowling alley scene; Karen Gillan’s performance begins finding the right balance of 1990s action star and satire, and the film finds balance between more natural dialogue (demanded to advance the plot with every breath) and bonkers action. Afterwards, the final three quarters of the film marinates its plot, leans into the silliness of the action-blockbuster, and shows no restraint in fight choreography. If you can burden a rough first twenty-five minutes, Netflix’s newest female-centric action flick ends up being two hours well spent.
Sam (Gillan), a trained killer working for The Firm, was prescribed into the life of an assassin only after her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), fired the wrong shot and had to abandon her daughter. Sam mirrors her mother a little too closely and fires a wrong shot of her own, a shot that puts an eight-year-old girl into more danger. With the help of The Librarians (Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Carla Gugino), three women who manage a super assassin weapon convenience store that fronts as a public library, Sam finds herself compelled to save and shelter the little girl, Emily (Chloe Coleman, one of the best not-quite-yet mainstream child actresses working today).
No questions about it: Gunpowder Milkshake is most entertaining when Laurent Demianoff’s fight choreography takes precedence over any dialogue. The crew is very conscious of this, allowing them to maximize Gillan’s first outing as a true action lead. According to Netflix press releases, Papushado noted his goal to “feature a new style of fight scene with gun battles that have never before been seen on screen.” I’m not in the position to judge whether this is accomplished or not, but at the least, it’s the best action I’ve seen in a Netflix Original.
While avoiding spoilers, there are two fights in particular with enough creativity in weapons, set pieces, and types of violence that more than make up for the film’s rather droopy start. In both fights, the characters make full use of their surroundings with the production design becoming almost kinetic. Most importantly, not one fight is devoid of something new; Demianoff and crew refuse to play the same hand twice, almost ensuring there will be a fight that fits any viewer’s personal gluttony for cinematic violence.
dir. Navot Papushado
Gunpowder Milkshake is available for streaming on Netflix.