Abandonment and resentment offer up much in the way of desire and dedication for action stars. Gunpowder Milkshake throws a lack of mother and a ruthless upbringing toward Sam (Karen Gillan) and hopes that, with these components, they have an emotionally fragile, ruthless hothead that an audience can adapt with. It takes two to tango as the old saying goes, and to tango with the characters present in this Navot Papushado-directed piece takes a suspension of what we hope for and love about the action genre. Aspirations of John Wick are not just inevitable but expected. Comparisons to that Keanu Reeves modern action classic are not helpful, but they are convenient, especially for Gunpowder Milkshake, which plays like a watered-down piece of Chad Stahelski project.
Karen Gillan stars as Sam, a character certainly not drawing from the cool and collected stylings of John Wick. Gillan offers much to the role but is deflated by uneventful writing, which feels primarily driven by cliché and static, simplistic camera cuts. Papushado relies solely on shot-reverse-shot conversations and audible cues as to when and where suspense should be. Nothing about it feels natural or all that engaging, yet the slick set design and inevitability of action lingers on the mind. It is the antidote to the boredom Gunpowder Milkshake holds within it. A weak antidote, granted, but at least there is the presence of something rewarding on the horizon. Something could, potentially, strike up the excitement. Those moments are too few, and too far into the simplistic, jargon-heavy details of an assassin abandoned by a mentor.
But the pain of a young and upcoming assassin is not to be repeated, and when given the chance to look after one of her own, the inevitable reflections on the old, undone past are brought about with simplicity. It lacks the narrative bite of a colder, harsh story, and its actual moments of action are played up like a B-Movie. “Sixty seconds!” Michael Smiley screeches as he flees a room with over-the-top, comical fashion. It is meant to bring one of many scenes of tension to the table, but it suffers from the inconsistencies of theme and thought. Opportune moments of creativity are struck occasionally, but never form anything that feels ultimately rewarding. A Three Stooges-level of comedy bad guys follow our protagonist, hoping for the chance to seal her fate. They bluster and blunder their way through jobs they are, presumably, paid rather well and often for. But such is the bulletproof nature of a leading character, Gunpowder Milkshake just makes it feel far too obvious, far too often.
Attempting to be suave and cool yet childish and comical, Gunpowder Milkshake staggers between the blurred line with no real commitment to either style. Had it gone one way or the other with some conviction from Papushado, then the mixed bag would be, well, a bit of fun, or a bit of entertainment. Either way, trying to do both proves too much for this talented cast to handle. Gillan certainly has a future in the action genre, and should she find the right project, there are dividends there that will be as rewarding as, say, Charlize Theron’s stint in the genre. Gunpowder Milkshake does feel a slight tinge similar to Atomic Blonde, just without a strong soundtrack, interesting characters, detailed aesthetic choices, and a story worth following.