Gunpowder Milkshake joins the ranks of fantastic underseen action films of 2021, an elite list that includes Nobody, The Tomorrow War, and Wrath of Man. A girl power action extravaganza of the highest caliber was just what the doctor ordered, evoking obvious comparisons to other films. In terms of tone, the action is similar at times to the frenetic sequences in the Kingsman films. Where I found the richest inspirations were in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and John Wick. Wherever screenwriters Ehud Lavski and Navot Papushado lovingly pulled from, Gunpowder Milkshake is an explosion of epic memorable mayhem. Karen Gillan and a kickass cast full of wickedly talented female talent give the film a spicy flavor of fun, while the script’s world-building weaves in a litany of exciting possibilities.
Sam doesn’t have the most conventional childhood. In the opening, a very young Sam (Freya Allan) waits to meet her mother, Scarlet (Game of Thrones superstar Lena Headey), at an old-school diner. After arriving “a few minutes late” (in reality, it’s 3 hours), for their rendezvous, Sam shares a milkshake with Scarlet, and presents her with a book containing a gun inside. When the Russians show up, one of them cuts Sam’s cheek before all hell breaks loose. A shower of bullets later, and Scarlet abandons Sam after the shootout.
Fifteen years later, adult Sam (Gillan) works for The Firm—a group of men “who run things.” When they need a mess cleaned up, Sam is who they call to take care of it. Bad intel leads Sam to a situation where she is forced to massacre many more men than anticipated. The Firm is willing to protect her, even though one of the men she killed was actually the son of infamous mob boss Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson). They do however have an important mission for her in return: an accountant stole a lot of money from The Firm, and they need Sam to get it back.
What should be a simple retrieval mission morphs into a different beast entirely. Facing off with the man, he gets shot in the stomach. A call he was desperate to answer reveals the ugly truth of his situation. The only reason he stole from The Firm was because a group of men donned in classic horror movie monster masks kidnapped his daughter. Now, he has just 60 minutes left to save the poor girl Emily (Chloe Coleman) from an uncertain fate. The moment of the call feels like an actual reveal from a Saw movie, and recalibrates Sam’s actions up to this point. From here, Sam takes it upon herself to get the accountant the medical attention he needs, and then sets her sights on his daughter. She reasons that she will use the money stolen by the accountant from The Firm to pay off the kidnappers, then track them down and kill them before they escape with the money. She will return the full balance to The Firm, and all will be forgiven.
Of course, it’s never that easy. Tracking down the kidnappers is pie, but her employer Nathan (Paul Giamatti) has sent along three of his goons to stop Sam, too. When the dust has cleared, Sam must keep the innocent 8 year-old Emily safe from harm. The only surefire way is by teaming up with her estranged mother, and three badass Librarians (Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Carla Gugino). If it sounds like a jaw-dropping team-up movie a la Birds of Prey, that’s exactly what Gunpowder Milkshake is in a nutshell.
One of my favorite moments in the entire movie involves the comeuppance of a monster-mask wearing kidnapper that’s faithful to the character in a hilarious and meta way. The action sequences themselves are all varied and unconventional. This keeps it from being boring for even one second. A bowling alley fight is intimate and close-quarters, and a hospital brawl sees Sam being resourceful in a battle against three foes without the use of her hands at all. When the set-piece at the huge immersive library rolls around, Gunpowder Milkshake takes full advantage of every prop in a way that rewards the viewer for paying attention. It pulls your eye in so many directions. Different books on the shelves in the library hold items often correlating to their title in comical, smart ways. The best action scene in the movie is shot entirely in slow-motion, set to the fitting song “Baby Blue.”
Gunpower Milkshake is a refreshing mix of old-school action with new-school concepts. It utilizes every bit of the incredible female performers in its roster. Little Emily never overstays her welcome—her relationship with Sam is so brilliantly executed. “Fudge you” is the perfect curse-word placeholder. The smart script is filled with clever dialogue. In one scene where Sam asks her mom what secret plan she has up her sleeve this time, Headey’s Scarlet responds: “I called us an Uber.” I can only hope that Netflix will put this film on their agenda as part of an ongoing series. I would love to see more adventures in this world, and more women fighting against The Firm.
Gunpowder Milkshake explodes onto Netflix on Wednesday, July 14th.