‘Gunpowder’ features a stale heroine



It was a movie that I was really looking forward to. It boasted of a great cast, fantastic action, and a heart-wrenching story. Months, I waited for “Gunpowder Milkshake” to arrive. Netflix kindly provided me with a copy of the review, as they do for anything I ask, and it was … more of a mixed bag than I expected.

By 2021, Hollywood is due to produce all female-led action films. “Wonder Woman” and “The Old Guard” show that women are just as capable of leading an action movie as anyone else. And in a world where we get dozens of mediocre male-directed action movies, women should have just as many shootouts and explosions.

Is having a woman in mind a guarantee of success for an action film? Absolutely not. “Miss Bala” definitely proves it. And “Gunpowder Milkshake” wasn’t as good as it should have been.

The movie stars Karen Gillan as an assassin named Sam, and she’s the biggest deal with “Gunpowder Milkshake,” which seems like such an odd line to type considering her history in the “Doctor Who” movies and Marvel.

Lena Headey plays Sam’s mother, Scarlet, another assassin.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” follows Sam as she makes some critical mistakes in her missions and ends up losing a ton of money for this mysterious group she works for called The Firm. After accidentally shooting a man (and ultimately killing him), Sam discovers that the man’s daughter has been taken hostage and that he is trying to get her back.

The girl is an adorable girl named Emily, played by Chloe Coleman. She’s cute and sassy enough to make you want to grab a few guns and shoot an army of thugs to protect her.

This setup should be a great formula for a great movie. You have a hardcore main character with a shiny sports car and a little girl to protect from a gangster squad. Just add water and you’re done.


But it becomes evident to the audience that Gillan is far too rigid in his role. This clashes with the opening style of the film, which features a series of colorful neon signs, milkshakes at a 1950s-style restaurant, a few clips from the adorable “Bee and Puppy” cartoon and even a sports bag labeled “I love kittens.”

When you open up a movie with all of that and essentially give the audience a stiff, drab character to follow, it’s a bummer.

I was really hoping for a super stylized shoot ’em up like “John Wick”. Is John big on emotional expression? Not really. But we are shown his wife dying of a terminal illness and gangsters murdering the puppy she got him. That’s enough to cause the rage and murder of a movie.

Sam doesn’t really have an easy life. Her mother abandoned her when she was a girl, and now she has to protect Emily in a way that she feels her mother never protected her. It should be a good soil to plant the seeds of the bond, but Sam never really expresses much empathy towards Emily. Rather, it looks like she’s protecting her just because the script tells her to.

Even “John Wick” shows some emotional scenes of bonding with John’s first and second puppies. But for too much of the movie, Sam looks like he’s trying too hard to be an action hero instead of just being an action hero.

My wife suggested that Gillan spends so much time playing Nebula in the Marvel movies that she seems to be playing the same character here. Nebula is a nervous and angry character. But he’s also a cyborg who has spent most of his life being tortured by Thanos. It makes sense that she is stiff and robotic.

But Sam? We are shown watching cute cartoons, drinking milkshakes, and carrying bags that describe her love for kittens (although we never see her with kittens). The movie promised audiences a more grounded, sleek Harley Quinn trying to protect a little girl from gangsters, and Gillan just didn’t live up to that. It’s disappointing.


Now I’ll give Gillan some credit for the action sequences. She looks great killing all those thugs, and that’s to credit to her and Michael Seresin’s cinematography. “Gunpowder Milkshake” offers some great fights, especially the bowling scenes and slow motion dinner on a killer track at the end. The camera work is stellar.

There is a fight scene in a hospital where a doctor injects Sam with a drug that paralyzes his arms. So she asks Emily to tape a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other as she confronts three henchmen armed with pistols and a shotgun. There is almost a level of “Kingsman” silliness to the violence that made it fun to watch.

It’s weird to see Headey without a crown on her head, but she’s doing fine in this movie. In fact, I think my biggest complaint about “Gunpowder Milkshake” would have been resolved if Sam had died as a girl, and the movie focused on Headey’s character killing waves of thugs to protect Emily.

The librarians are by far the coolest part of the movie. Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino run a library for assassins where the books are filled with weapons, ammunition, passports, knives, gold, and other items. I know the cinematic universes are starting to become a cliché, but I would watch a movie about these ladies.

Listening to them tell Sam that she needed a “Virginia Woolf” and a “Jane Austen”, only to see those books being hollowed out to contain specific handguns was a real joy to see. It’s funny and creative. Bassett, Yeoh and Gugino really stole the show.


Another problem I have with “Gunpowder Milkshake” is this mysterious organization trope that he uses with The Firm.

What is The Firm doing in this movie? It’s just a group of men in costume who have an unspecified relationship with Paul Giamatti’s character, Nathan. The only reason they’re in the movie is to give Sam a strange organization trying to hunt her down and send other assassins to kill her. We don’t even see the men in costume except in a few scenes, and all they do is sit around drinking.

If the film wants to have a mysterious organization of assassins, fine. But define it. Enrich it. Give the organization a purpose and a way to impress the audience how powerful it is. VILE, the evil organization from the most recent cartoon “Carmen Sandiego”, was more of a threat to the titular hero than The Firm is to Sam.

And, of course, most of the gangsters who go after Sam are Russians. Russian seems to be the gang default in a movie, and I’d like to propose a two-year moratorium on this trope. Find a new nationality for gangsters in upcoming action movies.


I wanted to like “Gunpowder Milkshake”. Damn, I wanted to be over the moon for this movie, but Gillan’s performance is so hard to get over.

Strong women are good characters to put in a movie, but you have to write them well like any other character.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is one of those movies that straddles the line between good movies and bad movies. The librarians, the action scenes, and the camera work are all awesome. Talk about a mixed bag.



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