Sam (Karen Gillan) has only known two things in life: her mother’s gun-for-hire line of work and the slow meltdown of her childhood as her mother grew increasingly distant. Thus, “Gunpowder Milkshake” became an incredibly symbolic title that draws viewers in with a curiosity muddled with expected action, childhood pleasures and enough silliness to make it palatable for just about anyone. Sam’s journey through a hit gone wrong and her subsequent mistakes in this film make for an exciting ride filled with relatable female characters.
To start, the lighting and set choices were nearly on par with the star-studded cast’s performances, even accentuating the fight choreography. This is especially apparent during a fight scene in a bowling alley that is backlit by lights on the alleys, adding to the feeling of innocence lost to a life of violence. Scenes like this were mesmerizing and truly helped bring out that theme by making the moments pop and making it clear that the scene has a strong purpose.
Perhaps the most creative of these scenes was when the librarians joined in the final fight by hiding and fighting in the elaborately decorated children’s rooms. Continuing the loss of innocence motif, the rooms were decorated with dark themes containing concealed weapons. This brought everything back to innocence by the end of the film: the showdown set in the library where Sam grew up was filled with concealed guns, chain whips and more was the final fight to protect Emily (Chloe Coleman) and her own innocence.
The sequences felt reminiscent of a “John Wick” fight, especially watching Anna May (Angela Bassett) use axes to take down the bad guys; anyone remember that knife scene in the sequel? Honestly, my only complaint about this film is that we were robbed of more Anna May content. All three librarians had so much potential to showcase their badassery, but for the most part they just served as insightful aunties, especially Madeleine (Carla Gugino).
However, the film as a whole exuded those “John Wick” vibes. Sam’s rough n’ tough attitude combined with her deadly and zero remorse work definitely parallel the infamous Keanu Reeves character, but her character is watered down to focus on the loss of innocence through losing her mother’s presence rather than being driven by the death of a loved one. Gillan’s performance reflects that clearly as she’s a loaded gun, both figuratively and literally, but also slowly remembering how to understand a child as innocent rather than naive — unlike her tag along little friend, innocence was never an option for her as a child.
Instead, Sam was thrust into an empowered role following in the footsteps of her mother as she was raised within The Firm. She learned to suppress her emotions and focus on nothing but work. It’s not until she accidentally ends up taking care of Emily that her emotions begin to get the best of her. Emily may be a child, but her noticeable intelligence and resilience overshadow her childlike wonder.
This doesn’t go unnoticed by Sam, who tries to maintain Emily’s innocence as best she can while figuring out how to keep the girl alive. In fact, Emily was the most compelling character in the movie because of her deep curiosity and quick acceptance of The Firm’s work. She’s a tough kid and she’s not afraid to let you know what’s on her mind. Sam doesn’t discourage this because she knows the type of mentality a woman needs to get ahead in life, and Emily’s continued loss of innocence indicates that she’ll need that mentality far more than any other child her age.
In this way, Sam learns how to set aside her selfishness and empower others with her attitude and knowledge of her career. We see a large number of strong female protagonists for her to draw her knowledge from and help Emily understand how her world works. It may not be the ideal environment for a child, but I’m a sucker for a good found family and Sam and the librarians provide a nurturing and accepting family for Emily. All three librarians welcomed Emily immediately and risked their lives to protect her, so it’s no surprise that the orphan girl latched onto them.
“Gunpowder Milkshake” was the refreshing female-led action flick we needed from Netflix this summer. An all-star cast led by Karen Gillan provided a ton of fight sequences that captivated the eye and demanded rapt attention. Because of its female leads and relatable themes, the film makes a statement about female agency both in child- and adulthood. This one is a must-watch for any action fans!