Over-stylized movies will always hold an appeal to me. Cinema is perhaps the best medium for showing us memorably striking imagery, in ways that would otherwise be impossible (bring on the angry comments from painters, photographers, and other visual media artists). Genre films in particular can be filled with spectacular and imaginative set pieces that become ingrained in our collective consciousness. Sure, the vistas in last year’s Best Picture winning Nomadland were gorgeous, but when thinking back on memorable movie moments, I am more likely to recall some of the visually stunning fight sequences from Zack Snyder’s oeuvre. I’m not saying that any of his movies are better than Nomadland (they aren’t), or that all of them are even good (though some of them very much are), but that his on-camera inventiveness makes them memorable in ways that many more staid dramas simply aren’t. And so it should come as no surprise that I was interested in Netflix’s latest stab at the genre, Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake.
Sam (Karen Gillan) is an assassin for The Board, taking orders from Nathan (Paul Giamatti), who has looked after her since she was abandoned by her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey). In her most recent jobs, she inadvertently kills the son of a rival crime organization’s leader, and then winds up taking off with her bosses’ stolen money to try and rescue her victim’s daughter, Emily (Chloe Coleman), from the men holding her for ransom. Unsurprisingly The Board doesn’t take too kindly to these developments and has Nathan send his goons after her, leading to an impressively choreographed fight sequence in a neon-lit bowling alley. She winds up reuniting with her mother and then, with nowhere else safe to go, the pair turn to three former associates of Scarlet’s: Anna May (Angela Basset), Madeline (Carla Gugino), and Florence (Michelle Yeoh), who deal arms out of a neo-Gothic library, where the group of women decide to take a stand against the men who have been trying to control them.
As is typical for these types of movies, the story is simultaneously simplistic and overly complicated, and the dialogue is sometimes stilted and cheesy, but the cast handles it all capably, and even manages to get you to care despite some paper-thin characterization. As is also typical for these types of movies, they live or die on how well they can pull off the audacious spectacle we’ve come to expect from them, and in that regard Gunpowder Milkshake delivers. The fighting is frequently inventive, often almost looking like dance, though the copious amounts of artful blood splatter aren’t for the squeamish. The production design in particular stands out, with the many anachronistic choices helping to create a world that seems to exist outside of time or any familiar place. It doesn’t reach the status of a masterpiece, but it also doesn’t really need to, instead it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the girl-powered blast as it blows by in a whirl of blood and neon. ★★★★
Available on Netflix with a subscription.
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout and language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor