Gunpowder Milkshake (3 stars)

Gunpowder Milkshake

Navot Papushado's female-fronted action flick stars Karen Gillan, Lena Headey and Angela Bassett

'John Wick but with chicks' could have been the pitch to studio execs but Gunpowder Milkshake defies a lot of the stereotypes that have plagued women in action cinema – and that's when they are even allowed to participate. Despite the genre's strong fantasy leanings, which see middle-aged or, frankly, elderly men portrayed as unstoppable, female characters in such films have often felt tokenistic or sexualised. Although this shoot 'em up also evokes Quentin Tarantino's more progressive Kill Bill it also does things a bit differently.

It's the third feature from Israeli director Navot Papushado, best known for 2013's strikingly executed thriller Big Bad Wolves, and the visuals are just as stunning. It's a cartoony, heavily farce-infused depiction of a secret world of assassins, which rocks a bit of a MeToo vibe as a group of women take on The Firm, a male-dominated crime outfit who have long controlled things. Karen Gillan plays Sam, the contract killer daughter of an estranged contract killer mother (Lena Headey's Scarlet), who left her in the care of The Firm's Nathan (Paul Giamatti) as a child, only to see her become what she feared.

When Sam defies orders for the sake of a kid (Chloe Coleman's plucky Emily) and kills the wrong man (the son of Ralph Ineson's mobster Jim), she puts a price on her head and has to go to her mother's old crew – played by Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett and Michelle Yeoh – for help. The trio are posing as librarians in a gorgeously designed and kitted out building, but are primed for conflict, and it's not long before Scarlet herself re-emerges.

There's plenty of funny, innovative and beautifully choreographed action (including a sequence where Gillan has to take on a trio of assailants without the use of her arms). However, the meticulous staging means things can actually feel a tad stilted and it lacks a bit of pace and sparkle in the script (written by Papushado and Ehud Lavski), but the casting is superb, with a steely Gillan and an unconventionally maternal Headey a great pairing and Bassett typically commanding. As three generations of hard-as-nails women come together to fight back, it's like the film is evening the odds a little, and opening up the action field to all. Or, at the very least, it feels like a flying kick in the right direction.

Available to watch in cinemas and on Sky Cinema from Friday 17 September.

Gunpowder Milkshake

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 1h 54min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Navot Papushado
  • Written by: Ehud Lavski, Navot Papushado
  • Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti
  • UK release: 17 September 2021

An action film about assassins featuring a female-led cast.