I’m going to be talking about two very specific genres of film, both of which describe Gunpowder Milkshake. One is a fairly new creation and suitable if you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of this movie: Gunpowder Milkshake is a film best watched while looking at your phone. That’s it. End of review.
For a quick synopsis, Gunpowder Milkshake is the story of a second-generation assassin who battles an army of criminals to protect the child she orphaned after a hit gone wrong. It is hyper-stylized and feels like a blend of the John Wick franchise and the Kill Bill movies.
Karen Gillan stars as a hitwoman employed by criminal agency “The Firm.” When she needs weapons — referred to here as “boomsticks” — she goes to “The Library,” which provides items and whatever else assassins might need. It’s basically the hotel from John Wick. In fact, everything in this movie is like the hotel from John Wick.
There is an assassin diner. An assassin hospital. And the aforementioned assassin library. It’s a whole assassin-based economy. Also I realized the librarians are supposed to be Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty. That’s fun, I guess.
So far I’ve been harsh on Gunpowder Milkshake, but I should explain that it’s not as bad as it seems. I realized something about reviewing movies while watching Gunpowder Milkshake. Here I am intently studying this movie, taking notes, the whole deal. But this isn’t really a movie that warrants that, nor does it ask that of the viewer. This is a movie light on story and characterization, heavy on action and style, that is just something to pass time in the age of streaming entertainment.
Now to get to that second genre I mentioned, which dates back to the mid-90s. The year was 1994. NAFTA had just been established. Nine Inch Nails released their seminal album The Downward Spiral to critical praise. O.J. Simpson committed zero murders, a jury would later decide.
Also that year, Pulp Fiction was released in theaters, which birthed an entire genre of lesser imitators. It’s difficult to describe if you didn’t indiscriminately consume media during that era, but the fallout from Pulp Fiction was a bunch of filmmakers putting their own spin on what would evolve into Quentin Tarantino’s whole oeuvre. It was mostly bad.
For years, filmmakers would make an attempt at hyper-cool, genre-blending pastiches where every character said the coolest shit and had a really badass way to light their cigarettes. There was a lot of hyper-violence, but also everyone had an ironic detachment to it all. Someone would deliver a monologue about how The Jetsons is actually set in the post-apocalypse and then aim their gun sideways while robbing a Bob’s Big Boy.
Here’s the worst example of what I’m talking about. This is a movie called The Item from 1999. It is terrible. Give it about three minutes, and you get the idea.
Considered alongside the other Tarantino imitations, Gunpowder Milkshake is on the better end of things. There is a fight scene in a neon bowling alley. Old west music plays as our protagonist uses a novelty child’s suitcase shaped like a panda to beat up three henchmen.
There’s a hostage exchange in an abandoned Blockbuster. The kidnappers have high-quality movie monster masks for some reason. This is an example of how characterization works in movies like this. No one is really fleshed out, but everyone — and I mean everyone — has a gimmick.
Finishing up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on Gunpowder Milkshake’s take on what is best described as “girl power.” The feminist message is not subtle. It features a group of strong female characters fighting an army of men. This is the movie that Zack Snyder thought he was making when he made Sucker Punch. I was surprised to learn that this movie comes from one of the writer/directors of Big Bad Wolves, which I highly recommend.
As it stands, Gunpowder Milkshake is serviceable. There are better options for recent female assassin movies, but I must confess to feeling a bit of nostalgia watching an over-the-top “edgy” action movie that feels plucked from the latter days of the ’90s.
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