Given how well she’s utilised her heart and her humour when leaning into the action heroine outfit – see the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jumanji franchises for reference – it makes sense that both additives be applied to Karen Gillan‘s latest genre effort, the delightfully named Gunpowder Milkshake.
Initially she’s a little too cold-hearted and calculating though, and it’s in the early scenes of Navot Papushado‘s John Wick x Kingsman actioner that Gunpowder doesn’t quite feel like an organic piece. Gillan’s Sam feels capable and Paul Giamatti‘s smarmy Nathan is suitable villain fodder, but it’s not until she takes on a trio of goons sent to off her that the film truly finds its footing and embraces the sense of humour it so desperately was lacking.
The reason for these goons going after her is really of little importance – she assassinated the wrong crim’s son, she’s now no longer protected by the very organisation that orchestrated the hit itself – but it results in a stellar sequence of choreographed violence, made all the more bombastic by the fact that poor Sam’s arms are temporarily paralysed; cue lots of flailing limbs that happen to have a gun and a knife sticky-taped to each hand for that extra kick.
It’s here that Gunpowder‘s bloody and comedic temperament truly livens Papushado’s script – co-written with Ehud Lavski – with an almost old school Jackie Chan vehicle approach to the material, rather than the Atomic Blonde-ness we are expecting. Gillan is more than capable of carrying the film towards its action-heavy-by-way-of-emotional-beats climax, but it is certainly to the film’s benefit that, along the way, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett all make their presence welcomely felt.
Despite her hitwoman status, Headey’s Scarlet – who also happens to be Sam’s mother – allows the usually villainously typecast actress the chance to extend a sense of geniality on screen. Sure, she’s executing head shots and stabbing various thugs in the neck, but when it’s being done so as a form of bonding with her equally skilled offspring, you can’t help but warm to her. The winning trio of Gugino, Yeoh and Bassett as “the Librarians”, a group of matriarchs running a stately library that acts as a front for a gun depository safe house, equally earn our immediate investment, with all five of the women coming together in a gloriously over-done set-piece that allows each actress the chance to flex their genre capabilities.
Though the film may struggle to find its own identity in this post-Wick world where slick organisations oversee a common ground that feels designed more for the sake of a cool factor than anything of serious depth – here a 1950’s diner acts as a gun-free zone for the quirky criminal underworld created here – Gunpowder Milkshake at least lands on two solid feet after a hesitant start. The potential of Papushado’s landscape is vast – this certainly has an air of franchise capability to it – but if this is all we are afforded within this universe, at least it goes out with a bang.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Gunpowder Milkshake is screening in Australian theatres from July 15th, 2021.