About a week ago today, Netflix dropped (what I consider to be) another understated gem of kick-ass female-led action movies. I know the world is obsessed with promoting Black Widow right now, but I feel like Gunpowder Milkshake is a little more worth your time in the immediate future, and I’ll give you 10 reasons why.
This is a non-spoiler list — I didn’t tell you anything that can’t be seen from the trailer.
10 – Paul Giamatti
I know it’s odd to start a list about a movie I praise as being a solid female-led action movie with a man’s name, but I’d be lying if I said that my friends and I didn’t get excited when we saw Paul Giamatti in the trailer. I can’t really tell you why.
It is definitely not anything rooted in any love for him as the main character on my end (I can’t tell you any movies right off the top of my head that he’s been the lead actor in), but I tend to love his delivery as supporting characters in offbeat movies. I am positive I saw him in something else before this, but 2012’s John Dies at the End (which Giamatti had an Executive Producer credit on) always sticks out in my mind. I have watched many movies just because of him ever since.
9 – The Style
If you’re a fan of well-shot conceptually executed movies, this one is for you. I put it right up there with the likes of Baby Driver and Lucky Number Slevin in terms of subtly establishing and pulling off a certain casually odd yet artistically pleasing aesthetic.
8 – It Delivers
As I said, this movie belongs in a certain pantheon of films I adore. The movies are female-led action flicks, but quirky in their own ways. Yes, I love What Happened to Monday (which can also be viewed on Netflix if you’re curious), but I’m not including it in this list because it misses a certain quirky flare. Nor am I talking about the likes of more recent large screen productions such as Peppermint (aka “Female Punisher”) or Miss Bala, because – while they entertained me – I wouldn’t necessarily call them quirky (or as well-written). No, this felt nostalgic yet original at the same time.
I put it on the same list with original & heavily stylized movies like Kill Bill, Tank Girl, and Sucker Punch. There was something unique about them, and – whether you loved them or not – you were at least curious enough to see it through to the end (at least once) to see what happens. I have watched each of those 3 movies more than 10 times (and I promise I don’t love Sucker Punch) because there’s just something I really respect about their execution.
7 – The Cast
This movie racked up a talented group of familiar faces and put them into roles that they wear very well. Giamatti’s already been mentioned, but he’s more like a good side to the main course. The movie is carried by the performances of Karen Gillan as Eva (who you may recognize the most from the recent Jumanji movies, her time as Nebula in a number of MCU movies, and Amy Pond in Doctor Who), Chole Coleman as the young girl Emily, and a slew of big-name veterans who make up a deadly ensemble of female supporting characters (Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino).
Speaking of that supporting ensemble of ladies…
6 – Anna Mae is Back!
If you have ever seen the 1993 movie about the performer Tina Turner, called What’s Love Got to Do with It, that details many main elements of her story and focuses a lot on the sad abusive relationship she was in with Ike Turner — you’d be familiar with the name Anna Mae. And you’re more than likely familiar with the “Eat the cake Anna Mae” scene (trigger warning)…
Well, Angela Bassett is back playing a character named “Anna May” in Gunpowder Milkshake. Considering the pop culture associated with the name Anna Mae and how it’s tied to Bassett’s acting past, it was a welcome twist to see that namesake applied to a very strong and determined character who is killing a bunch of people – LOL! I know it’s not supposed to be in the same universe, but the name and the actor being put together in this type of movie can’t be a coincidence.
5 – The Violence is Well-Executed
This movie is bloody. I think I described it as “Stylized Violent Girl Power Action” when I first saw it because it has some legit gory slow-down “hey look at the bullet go through that guy” kinda’ moments. But they’re done well enough to work with the story and not jar you out of the fantasy. And seeing how casually the characters react to the chaos around them just works!
4 – Unique Fight Scene Scenarios
Movies have had fights in bowling alleys, hospitals, and libraries before, but not like they’re done in this movie. That’s all I’ll say about that.
3 – The Universe
This movie does what other great movies in this genre seem to pull off well: It creates a fun universe and set of rules that allow your mind to run a little rampant and make the story better. This isn’t just a movie about one assassin, but a movie about an assassin operating in a world where crime has rules and sects that execute their will according to a system of organized mayhem, respect, and fear of consequences. Money runs things at the end of the day, but only the powerful can have that money.
Think of any movie that has successfully pulled off the beats this one hits on and you’ll find that they likely have that in common. The list is vast, but just thinking of a few… The previously mentioned Kill Bill. The John Wick series. Hell — Blade (before Disney was even a thought in the picture). All of these movies leave the potential for other things to happen beyond what you’re seeing on the screen. All of these movies imply a history that the audience doesn’t know, but it clearly informs what you’re seeing at that moment — it’s not just “something happening.”
2 – It Passes the Bechdel Test
If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel Test (or Bechdel-Wallace Test), it’s a test that looks at female representation in works of fiction. There are 3 measures that must be passed for a movie to pass this simple test:
Redemption. Empowerment. Sisterhood. Bonds. Redefining Family. Honoring a Code. Freedom.
This movie has a lot going for it that I think they nail and each person will take something different away from it. This might be the perfect movie for a feuding mother and daughter to watch together. This might be a motivational boost for someone facing a challenge or tough decision. This might help someone face an unpleasant truth in their life that they’ve been kind of shirking around.
I don’t think I’m overselling this point — this movie gives the viewer things to chew on mentally, and I think that’s what resonates with me about it. You get some sense of what each character’s true motivations are in this movie, and I feel like that seems to be a tall order for some stuff to fill these days (I say this as a person who watches A LOT of movies).
At the end of the day – this movie is just entertaining and worth the watch. I gave it an 8.5 out of 10 in my personal rating system. It isn’t perfect (few movies are), but it’s damn good & worth being seen.
Support this one just because it signals to the industry that we (the audience) wouldn’t mind more things like this — and frankly, I think the movie-watching experience would be better if more things took the strides toward “something fresh” that this one does.
If you’ve seen this movie, curious what you thought of it. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.