By: John M Jerva
THE REVIEW: Women kicking ass on film. It’s a tried and true religion but it seems that many people think that it’s just a current fad that started with the release of the first Wonder Woman film. Must I remind people of certain individuals throughout cinematic history named Sygourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, and Cynthia Rothrock to just name a few who cemented themselves as tough girls in cinema. As far back as I remember, the ladies have been kicking ass and taking names right along with the gents and sometimes, just sometimes, they do it just a little bit better and flashier.
Enough of that rant, now let’s talk about Netflix’s newest contender for franchise gold called Gunpowder Milkshake which boasts a sensational and stunning group of femme fatales including the MCU’s Karen Gillian, Game of Thrones alum Lena Headey ( who also played Sarah Conner on TV), Angela Basset and one lady who needs no introduction but we’ll give her one anyway…Michelle Yeoh. This is definitely a female A Team in action and boy do they deliver.
Gillian stars as Samantha, who has had one auspices upbringing as her mom Scarlet (Headey) is a lethal assassin who works for a mysterious organization called The Firm. No it’s not the film with Tom Cruise but it’s a group of old men who look like they are one foot in the grave and they sure don’t smile.
Unfortunately, mom has screwed up and now she must go on the run, leaving Sam in the care of Firm employee Nathan, played by Paul Giamatti who elevates anything he’s in. Fast forward 15 years and Sam is a chip off the old block and business is good. Unfortunately, like mom, Sam has killed the wrong son of a nasty criminal kingpin who wants something done for the mistake. Thow in the fact that she lost a shit load of money and, well, you can figure out the rest. Not even Nathan can protect her anymore.
The botched job has given her custody of a very precarious eight year old, or eight and three quarters old, little girl named Emily (Chloe Coleman) who Sam has just unfortunately killed her dad. Feeling a tad bit guilty, Sam takes it upon herself to protect her as Nathan and an army close in to makes sure neither are breathing by sun up. It’s the usual Assassin with a heart of gold plot thread that has been done to death but damn it if I don’t enjoy it every time it presents itself onscreen.
Watching this movie, which hails from director Navot Papushado, I couldn’t shake the fact that it was a cross between Kill Bill and John Wick. Yes, once again the effects of that blockbuster franchise has been sprinkled all over. Instead of The Continental, we have The Library and it’s stable of librarians who carry a lot more than just literature in the building and we also have The Diner where, surprise, there are no weapons aloud on the premises.
There’s also a big Tarantino like vibe in that a lot of the film has a spaghetti western tint to it like the second Kill Bill and Gillian is doing her best Uma Thurman impersonation. Couple that with slick visuals and vibrant colors and this is a whole other world. This is a world of assassins and nothing else which is a bold choice as every person in the movie is a part of this world and there are no innocent bystanders except for Emily.
The first half of the movie moves rather slow as it builds up the world that we are eventually immersed in and even though there are a few action sequences peppered in featuring Gillian, it felt rather dragged out. Once again, I felt about fifteen minutes could have been trimmed or put to better use.
Once Headey returns along with Bassett as Anna May, Gugino as Madeleine and Yeoh as Florence who make up the lethal librarians, things pick up and the final 45 minutes is an action assault on the senses as there are shootouts, beatdowns and knife fights aplenty. The action set piece within the library is the standout as all the ladies get their moment to shine and the choreography and editing is too notch. If you ever wanted to see Headey jump in the air in slo-mo dueling double pistols John Woo style, or see Gugino fire off with a mini-gun from a Scooby Doo looking van then you came to the right place.
Let’s not forget Yeoh doing what she’s done so many times before and rocking a chain along with Bassett duking out some punishment with a pair of hammers. The violence is hyperkinetic and extreme but in a comic book type of way. The finale definitely picks up the pieces of the first half of the movie satisfying action fans to the hilt.
The score feeds off the spaghetti western theme and once again takes its cues from Kill Bill. It’s almost as if Tarantino helmed the pic. Unfortunately some of the action is done to retro rock songs which may take some of the audience out of what’s happening on screen. I was fine with it but it does get a bit annoying.
On the villain side, Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson) is criminally underused and he’s not given enough screen time to warrant any real imposing threat except for the last scene. His nephew Virgil, played with the right amount of sleaze by Adam Naigaitis, isn’t very menacing either and I just wanted him to die. The rest are cartoonish no names whose only job it is to fall to the floor in extremely violent ways.
All in all, Gunpowder Milkshake is the story of two separate films and one is certainly more fun than the other. Good news is that the second verse saved it for me and I’m especially curious to see where the franchise goes as the setup is out of the way. The cast is spot on and the action is jolt inducing with clean editing and suped up effects that features enough bloodshed for two movies.
It’s not the best thing to come along this year but with its flaws, it still is one of the most fun times you’ll have watching goons die in spectacular fashion and Netflix certainly has another action hit on its hands. Survive the first half and give it a chance and you’ll walk away satisfied.