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J-L reviews GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE starring Karen Gillan calling it “yet another top-notch action performance.”



Gunpowder Milkshake (Netflix)

Gunpowder Milkshake releases in the UK on Friday, September 17, 2021.


Sam (KAREN GILLAN) was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (LENA HEADEY), an elite assassin, was forced to abandon her. Sam was raised by The Firm, the ruthless crime syndicate her mother worked for. Now, 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps and grown into a fierce hit-woman. She uses her “talents” to clean up The Firm’s most dangerous messes. She’s as efficient as she is loyal. But when a high-risk job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an innocent 8-year-old girl – Emily (CHLOE COLEMAN). With a target on her back, Sam has only one chance to survive: Reunite with her mother and her lethal associates, The Librarians (MICHELLE YEOH, ANGELA BASSETT and CARLA GUGINO). These three generations of women must now learn to trust each other, stand up to The Firm and their army of henchmen, and raise hell against those who could take everything from them.


From director Navot Papushado comes Gunpowder Milkshake, a high octane flick full of assassins, action and an all-star cast. Karen Gillan is Sam, the estranged daughter of hitwoman-in-hiding Scarlet (Lena Headey), who becomes embroiled in the midst of gang warfare and strives to protect 8-year old Emily (Chloe Coleman), not only from harm but also from becoming pulled into the world of crime as she was when her mother departed.

In an era of cinema in which the major studios are beginning to realise the importance of representation, many film fans have criticised the increase in female-led films as forced, woke, tokenistic pandering. Meanwhile, similar movies like Atomic Blonde, Ava, The Old Guard and the recent Netflix release Kate, have all commonly been cited as simple derivitive attempts to create a “female John Wick”.

Yet it is interesting that those who suggest as much do not sense the irony in their assertions: that films like this are considered forced only because they are not the norm, and thus exhibiting the truth that women have routinely been backgrounded throughout film history. 

It is particularly pleasing that Gunpowder Milkshake is instead unashamedly self-aware in its setup. The film opens with Sam asserting that “There’s a group of men called The Firm. They’ve been running things for a long, long time” and closes with a call to arms from her mother: “There’s no more standing on the sidelines. We all need to pick a side.”

Gillan continues to demonstrate her excellence as an action star here. In the franchises of Jumanji, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Doctor Who, action has almost always been at the very core of her most prominent roles and blended with comedy, drama and emotion. Her appearance utilises each and every one of those strings.

The supporting ensemble is unsurprisingly capable too, not just in the narrative but also in their performances. Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino make for a mighty team alongside Headey, whilst youngster Coleman offers a strong child turn, able to switch between heartfelt emotion and casual comedy with ease.

The film is full of fun; from its vibrant aesthetic and production design, to its wild set pieces and inventive fight choreography, the film never takes itself too seriously in its over the top style but at the same time offers the framework of a solid central story full of heart on which to hang its eccentricities. The worldbuilding, particularly the location of the library and the concept of weapon-filled novels, feels creative and fresh, setting it apart from similar films whilst simultaneously playing into the scathing self-awareness afforded by the female-focussed narrative.

There is always an underlying playfulness running throughout. A bowling alley sequence incorporating the primary MacGuffin of the film – a suitcase full of cash – into its choreography. Devising ways to fight whilst unable to control your arms. Slamming a head into a milkshake. Or simply just winding up the good old minivan minigun.


With rumours circulating over the past year that Gillan has been eyed to take the lead in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, this film is yet another top-notch action performance to add to her resume. Hopefully her pirate career materialises, but for now at least we have the potential promise of a reported Gunpowder Milkshake sequel to look forward to.

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