Gunpowder Milkshake seems like another attempt to adapt the John Wick formula outside of Wick-verse (is that a thing?). There is enough fun here for a light recommend. I’d give it 3 stoner van-mounted miniguns out of 5. Karen Gillan plays a credible bad-ass, Lena Heady can kill with a stare, and we need a modern Iron Mask re-telling with Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, and Michelle Yeoh.
The movie is about a woman whose mother—an assassin—abandoned her to a criminal cartel who exploited her greatest natural talent—violence. When I first saw the trailer, I was ready to buy in.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t live up to its potential. It meanders a fair amount, seems unfocused in many parts, and wastes an absolutely stellar cast with a movie that both tries to go to far with violence but doesn’t go far enough with the characters. Even while it has sparks of great fight choreography, it too often mistakes graphic violence for exciting action.
But a strong script with strong characters could have saved it. The cast is absolutely stellar, and was even able to squeeze some emotional investment out of this viewer, but the characters were nowhere near strong enough to balance out the deficits with the story.
There was nothing new or exciting with the plot. It was a paint-by-numbers, standard actioner. That could be okay. I’m fine watching a pedestrian plot if I’m given strong characters who are interesting. Unfortunately, even with a core of heavy hitters, there just wasn’t enough for them to work with. They do great with what they are given, but they just aren’t given enough.
Character decisions in the movie generally lack any kind of justification. Characters decide to flee a fight but join it later for no reason—except that the delay gives another character time to make a desperate rear action battle in a vain attempt to ramp up the tension. Characters ask logical questions about the actions of other characters that are never answered because there is no good answer. Characters act as is necessary for the story the writers wanted to tell, making the characters hollow devices rather than living beings.
It might make more sense that next time someone tries to do this, find some women to write women, and get Lexi Alexander to direct it. There were places where this movie reminded me of Punisher: War Zone, and I think Lexi Alexander could have gotten the tone right and delivered better action. Gunpowder Milkshake and Atomic Blonde are both frustrating because the ideas could totally work, but neither actually hit the mark.
There’s no guarantee that a woman writing or co-writing the script would have given us a better movie, but I would hope that one who critically considered the text on the page and how it might translate to the screen could have removed some of misogynistic elements of the movie. Yes, this is a movie about tough women, but there was dialogue that I highly doubt would have been included if the main character had been a man.
Further, I noticed that the character that seemed coded as the most feminine was the one who got killed. In an otherwise strong movie, with a good reason for that character’s death (it wasn’t even fridging, it just seemed like the writers decided someone needed to die) it might have passed. It didn’t seem narratively necessary and on the justification that a character needed to die, I would have thought that the mother character would have the most resonance and might have been used as part of the main character’s growth—live by the knife-sprouting autoloader, die by the steel knuckles. As it is presented, it seems like we are supposed to be affected by Madeleine because she is the most ‘nurturing’ character—a trait generally coded to women. It didn’t surprise me because it fit with the tenor of the writing, but it was a poor choice and a lazy choice in my opinion.