Considering the ubiquity of movies and TV shows based on comic books and graphic novels, its surprising that Gunpowder Milkshake wasnt.This neon-tinted, visually jazzy action thriller has so many frames that look like they were lifted straight from a comic book splash page.
Even though it’s an original story, comic book DNA runs through the veins of this movie, right from the get-go with its hero’s trenched and hatted silhouette evoking Dick Tracy.
Starring Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino and Paul Giamatti, everything about Gunpowder Milkshake is heightened. The colours are more saturated, from the aqua of the diner uniforms to the bright red of its copious blood splatter.
Which makes the film’s generous violence more cartoon-like than gory – although there are several very grisly deaths that befall the scores of anonymous hitmen whose wide-collared costumes were probably sourced from Tony Manero’s leftovers.
If you’re looking for grounded realism, Gunpowder Milkshake isn’t it. It’s a confection – a fizzy dessert that’s fun in the moment but quickly forgotten.
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Sam (Gillan) is a professional assassin working for a secretive organisation named The Firm, a cabal of old white men in suits. Her handler is Nathan (Giamatti), who took her in as a teenager when her mother Scarlet (Headey) left her behind to go into hiding.
When Sam is sent to retrieve money stolen from The Firm, she finds herself in a conundrum, forced to choose between her job and saving a child (Chloe Coleman).
On the run and with an army of Irish gangsters after her, Sam turns to a group of her mum’s old comrades, Anna May (Bassett), Florence (Yeoh) and Madeleine (Gugino), who are dressed in the same colours as Sleeping Beauty’s good fairies. The costume palette is surely not a coincidence because they do turn out to be her fairy godmothers of sorts.
The three women run an old library in a rotunda, that’s really a democratic secret society of assassins. They hide weapons in books by Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen.
It’s also not giving the game away – because it’s in the trailers – to say that Headey’s Scarlet makes a return to Sam’s life for the ultimate showdown between the arse-kicking female warriors and the gormless goons sent to kill them.
Gunpowder Milkshake is a bit of harmless fun, more a collection of passable action set-pieces sprinkled with some aphorisms about parenting – and there’s a great shot of Headey fiercely diving into the fray while brandishing two enormous guns.
No one is getting killed here by some falling rocks.
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Director and co-screenwriter Navot Papushado is wading into a crowded genre, and while Gunpowder Milkshake’s vivid cinematography by Michael Seresin looks cool, it’s not tonally distinct and it doesn’t have the bonkers energy of the John Wick saga or the verve of Atomic Blonde.
Gunpowder Milkshake is a little scrappy and the fight sequences could be tighter and more fluid as it tries to evoke works from Guy Ritchie, Ben Wheatley, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.
But there is something exhilarating about watching Yeoh and Bassett just be badarses, and Gillan is absolutely capable of anchoring her own action franchise – for those things along, it’s worth the price of admission.
Rating: 3/5
Gunpowder Milkshake is in cinemas now (excluding Sydney and Victoria)
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