Gunpowder Milkshake Synopsis: In her turbulent life as a professional assassin, Scarlet (Lena Headey) was cruelly forced to abandon her daughter Sam (Karen Gillan) and go on the run. Years later, despite the estrangement, Sam has also grown up into a cold-blooded hitwoman. After a high-stake mission spins out of control, Sam has no choice but to team up with her estranged mother and her associates.
While big streamers set their eyes on expensive acquisitions (Amazon Prime purchased several discarded Paramount properties), Netflix is wisely shifting towards their own in-house franchises. Promising debut chapters like Enola Holmes and The Old Guard displayed the streamer’s eye for creative switch-ups from blockbuster formula. It’s been a joy to see a studio take genuine risks with their money, even if all those chances haven’t exactly paid off (looking at you, Bright).
Netflix’s latest throw at the dartboard, Gunpowder Milkshake, embraces a multi-generational tale following poised female assassins battling against an enigmatic agency. It’s a brilliant concept, one where writer/director Navot Papushado and co-writer Ehud Lavski can personify their own stamp amongst the crowded action subgenre. Instead of reinventing, Gunpowder Milkshake‘s overproduced emptiness sinks under the weight of its appealing aesthetics.
Papushado’s film desperately wants to go for the gusto. He and his team spend ample energy on inventive world-building, establishing a striking pallet of sets and costumes that playfully dances away from the genre’s overly machismo tendencies. All the vibrant decor helps set the tone for a tongue-in-cheek deviation from the run-of-the-mill formula. I give Papushado and Lavski credit for creatively meshing the violent extremes of gnarly, R-rated actioners with an acute sense of self-awareness. Gunpowder Milkshake’s unique cocktail of traits could have created a sharp and semi-reflexive spin on the genre’s inequitable gender dynamics if executed properly.
Gunpowder Milkshake sadly never discovers that intriguing wavelength. Papushado and Lavski find themselves settling for the bare minimum, coasting off inventive design work and hollow corporate pandering under the guise of a dynamic personality (the few feminist-driven scenes are hilariously underwritten). Buried beneath the perfunctory colors and noisy song choices, there’s virtually nothing to excite or engage even the most hardened of action fans.
Papushado’s action reeks of flat busyness, with the director impassionately dancing between varied angles without developing a rhythmic momentum. There’s a handful of impactful stunts along the way (a goon gets beheaded by a falling tooth prop), but the distinct lack of energy behind the camera prohibits much of a punch. For a film vying for a hard-R rating, the action often feels weightless in its overly-coordinated design (many of the hand-to-hand scenes leave a staged aroma).
Where the action struggles to ignite, the narrative feels equally thankless. The two scribes create a generic amalgamation of action movie cliches, as the film’s distant mother-daughter relationship and makeshift family dynamics lack the genuine emotionality to surpass their foreboding cliches. A great ensemble cast should plausibly boost investment, but none of the actors are given much material to work with. Karen Gillan’s vacant protagonist is stuck operating in the wooden action hero mold, while all-time greats like Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Basset are woefully underutilized as thankless action figures. Seriously, it should be a crime to waste a cast with so many prominent talents.
Gunpowder Milkshake wants to spearhead a new franchise (a flat ending tease certainly makes this apparent). However, Papushado and Lavski’s disengaged effort blunders from its calculated studio cynicism. For the planned sequel, including more women behind the camera should become a central priority.
Gunpowder Milkshake is now available on Netflix.
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