Karen Gillan and Lena Headey Lean Into Their Killer Instincts in Netflix Action-Thriller ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’

Three generations of women come together to defeat ruthless men in “Gunpowder Milkshake,” a stylish thriller from Netflix. Much of the action centers on Sam (Karen Gillan), an assassin who takes orders from the Firm, a criminal organization led by Nathan (Paul Giamatti). She’s been under the protection of the Firm since her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), killed a man in front of her 15 years ago and skipped town immediately afterwards. Now, mother and daughter reunite to defeat more evil-doers and break free once and for all. 

While Sam’s mother wasn’t around for her formative years, the younger woman gets a chance to pass on her skills to Emily (Chloe Coleman), an eight-year-old girl she rescues from kidnappers. To save Emily, she has to take a detour from the original assignment given to her by Nathan, which was to take care of Emily’s father, an accountant for the Firm who stole a large sum of money. Sam has no idea that the accountant took the money to pay the ransom for his daughter, and she ends up killing the man. After, she’s able to retrieve Emily, but things go awry and Sam finds herself up against a group of thugs taking orders from Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson), a gang boss who is out for revenge against Sam due to her having killed his only son at the start of the film.

Understandably, being more maternal isn’t something that comes natural to Sam, but she finds herself having to lean on Emily after an attack renders her without the use of her arms. Coleman, who is no stranger to action, having last co-starred with Dave Baustista in “My Spy,” leans right into Emily’s accelerated initiation into the assassin sisterhood. Director Navot Papushado gets creative when it comes to the violence, although he holds back from going full Tarantino, and much of the gore is cartoonish. The impression is given that Sam has some kind of high threshold or intolerance when it comes to pain, although this is never fully explored.

Sam and Emily find themselves fighting baddies left and right, and Scarlet shows up at just the right moment. Also joining them is a badass trio of middle-aged librarians, Scarlet’s comrades and Sam’s surrogate aunts before Scarlet took off, Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Anna May (Angela Bassett), and Florence (Michelle Yeoh). Each woman has her own special skills, and the whole idea of having mature librarians go under the radar as assassins makes perfect sense when one thinks about it, as society tends to see this demographic as invisible.

Gillan, who has done a variety of comedy and action roles, and even showed her serious side in her very personal directorial debut, “The Party’s Just Beginning,” doesn’t really get enough credit for her range. Here, she’s rather droll, and she plays so well off of Headey, who has that perfect combination of flawless beauty and killer instincts that made her a favorite on “Game of Thrones,” although she’s slightly more emotionally healthy here.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is mostly a fun, slick ride, but there are moments when it feels like Papushado is trying too hard when it comes to some of the more campy elements, almost as if he’s trying to make an imitation of those films that are based off of graphic novels (“Gunpowder Milkshake” comes from an original script he penned with Ehud Lavski). Fortunately, the shining performances and other moments of originality prevent it from being merely a paler version of something else.

Gunpowder Milkshake” begins streaming July 14 on Netflix.