At first glance, there is a lot to like about Navot Papushado’s “Gunpowder Milkshake”: the colors, the cinematography, the whimsical world filled with ‘50s-inspired design, the badass female cast that plays equally badass characters. At second glance, “Gunpowder Milkshake” turns out to be the epitome of style over substance. Where there is style, it’s immaculate, but one look beneath the film’s candy shell reveals a hollow plot that is nearly impossible to follow or become invested in. It’s incredibly frustrating that the movie is so unbalanced in its quality — it allows viewers to hold onto hope and give the story the benefit of the doubt, only resulting in its unsatisfactory ending feeling even more disappointing.
“Gunpowder Milkshake” follows Sam (Karen Gillan), a talented young assassin who works for an organization known only as The Firm, following in the footsteps of her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), who skipped town 15 years earlier. Now, Sam seems destined to make the same escape after accidentally killing the son of the leader of a criminal empire and getting into hot water with her employers due to a failed mission. After reuniting, the deadly mother-daughter force brings together a formidable team consisting of Scarlet’s former accomplices, Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Florence (Michelle Yeoh) and Anna May (Angela Bassett) and the 8 ¾-year-old, recently rescued Emily (Chloe Coleman) to bring down The Firm once and for all.
This movie is an action thriller and misses no opportunities to remind viewers of it. While some of the action is thoroughly enjoyable to watch, the majority of it feels either so corny or so infuriatingly meaningless that it becomes impossible to take seriously. The story in “Gunpowder Milkshake” seems like nothing more than a rough outline that aims to get from point A to point B while squeezing in as many action scenes together as possible, making the film’s main turning points feel forced and rough cut, often eliminating the stakes from the film’s most intense moments. In a movie that clearly relies on stakes to tell an effective story, it’s a letdown to see plot blatantly play second fiddle to mediocre action.
Character development falters significantly after the first fifth of the movie. Sam’s abandonment by her mother is clearly her greatest motivator to protect Emily and what fuels her characteristic aggression, but the effects of this formative trauma are never explored beyond causing Sam some vague sadness and disappear completely one she is reunited with Scarlet. Emily is immediately and unwaveringly trusting of Sam, adapts too quickly and too comfortably to the deadly lifestyle she is forced into and isn’t given enough agency to have any significant impact on Sam at all. The movie wastes its protagonist’s two primary relationships, making it difficult to care about either one. Neither rekindled old relationship nor unexpected new one seem to have any effect on Sam; character development is essentially halted. All consequences — besides the ones that result in fights — disappear the moment it comes time to face them.
Although flawed, “Gunpowder Milkshake” is not without redeeming qualities. The movie may bite off more than it can chew, but it is still — for the most part — entertaining. While the plot seems underdeveloped, the writing does demonstrate merit by providing audiences with some smart, snarky dialogue. The visuals are also quite stunning; the movie distinguishes itself right away with its striking color, composition and blocking, creating some undeniably gorgeous shots throughout which are thoroughly enjoyable and fun to watch. It’s also incredibly refreshing to see a fierce team of women take center stage — a team which celebrates women of color and of a variety of ages — but it’s just not enough to save the movie’s various shortcomings.
While some aspects of its production soar, “Gunpowder Milkshake” invests too much time in looking pretty and not enough in being substantive. Misdirected energy tarnishes the movie’s potential. A shiny cherry on top can’t save a spoiled shake.