When I think of movies about female assassins, it’s the films of Luc Besson that immediately spring to mind. Most in the genre owe something to his earlier work, such as La Femme Nikita and The Professional, and I’ll admit these are among my all-time favorites. What can I say? There’s just something eternally awesome about a double-barreled woman blasting her way through an army of suited-up killers. Gunpowder Milkshake follows in that robust tradition, as well, but also offers up something new in terms of bombastic style. The film is a candy-colored kick in the ass and the best Netflix has offered up in this summer of blockbusters.
The name alone should give you a hint that Gunpowder Milkshake isn’t your typical hit-woman movie. Manga influence is everywhere, both in its high-energy, neon look and character, although it’s actually set in what appears to be a European city. Anonymous doesn’t mean blank, however. Everything about this world occupied by assassins feels fully- realized by director/co-writer Navot Papushado (of Big Bad Wolves fame), like some sort of offshoot from John Wick. It’s a world you’ll want to stick around in and definitely see more of when it’s over, and it doesn’t hurt that the people in it are pretty cool, too.
Karen Gillan plays Sam, a contract killer for The Firm, a group of anonymous old men who “control the world” from the shadows or some shit. Lena Headey is her mom, Scarlet, who had been The Firm’s top killer until she screwed up and went on the run, leaving her daughter in the care of Nathan, who helped mold the girl into the organization’s new top agent. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 15 years later, Sam also runs afoul of her bosses by killing the wrong person, the son of a violent big shot, then choosing to help Emily (charming My Spy breakout Chloe Coleman), a young girl The Firm has marked for death. Suddenly on her own with an entire army of well-dressed, heavily armed goons on her tail, Sam is in need of some help if she has even a wisp of a chance of survival.
Although Sam is a straight-forward badass, her fight to survive is full of wacky characters and colorful locales, with each battle more surreal than the next. A lot of the action takes place in a ’50s diner which is sorta like John Wick‘s The Continental, a safe space that isn’t so safe. A highlight brawl has Sam fighting three “Boneheads” in a Skittle-colored bowling alley, then later in a doctor’s office with everyone hopped up on laughing gas and her without the use of her arms. It’s a wild sequence, and Gunpowder Milkshake keeps throwing them at you one after another and they never get tiresome.
In The Library, Sam encounters her three “aunts”, played by an all-star lineup consisting of three women I would want on my team any day. Angela Bassett is Anna May, Carla Gugino as Mathilde (not coincidentally the name of Natalie Portman’s character in The Professional), and Michelle Yeoh as Florence. They run a place where the reading material is loaded with more than information, the Self Help section is fully stocked with more than cookbooks. It’s the scene of a truly epic gun fight, with Papushado making judicious use of slo-mo and chaotic angles to enhance the carnage. So much personality goes into every action sequence, the brutality mixing with humor ala Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Chains, tomahawks, hammers, panda-shaped suitcases, Hello Kitty bags, anything makes a good weapon.
The story is familiar if you dig into the bones of it. Hard-edged assassin gets saddled with a precocious kid who wants to become a “cleaner”, as well? Hey, the classics are classics for a reason. An unexpected reunion between mother and daughter plays out as one would expect, too, but it’s all about the presentation and Gunpowder Milkshake is exactly what the title promises. It’s the frothy, fun, sugar high that will have you buzzing for hours and I hope it’s just the start of something big. Whether that be prequels, sequels, an anime series…all of it could work. Gunpowder Milkshake is everything I love about movies and I’m already in need of a second helping.
Gunpowder Milkshake hits Netflix on July 14th.