Emma Jun
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Imagine Being Critical of 'Gunpowder Milkshake'

Jul 21, 2021

John Wick meets the best elements of Birds of Prey.

It is exactly that and more. That description will fit for the majority of the audience, those who like to yell on the Internet about feminazis taking over Hollywood, those who like to sit on their couch and live tweet, those who just eat popcorn. Y'know, the types who don’t analyze media so deeply. Undoubtedly they will attach the good and bad of that, especially that first type, but there are so many nice touches in this movie which raise it beyond such a blanket comparison, while completely paying tribute to those most excellent influences.

As this is my first such article, let me just break a moment to say that I don’t do spoilers. I don’t think spoilers are justified at any moment in any context, so I will only describe what needs to be said to understand, and in most cases I’m less spoilery than the official trailers. So, rest easy. Anyway, on with the show!

Birds of Prey didn’t work for me, but I loved the idea of the all female team getting shit done their own way, so, the redo here was totally worth it. Kid McGuffin? Check. Slightly unhinged lead escaping a past of emotionally heavy baggage? Check. Ridiculously stylish and unique action scenes? Yes! And that final point is what sold me on this film after it had me worried by teetering on the edges of cliché.

Ok, I’ll level with you. I’m a Karen Gillan fan. I was sold on this from the mere mention of her involvement, everything else is icing on the ginger cake, and so I totally understand if the film doesn’t click with some people so deeply, but there were two moments in this film that sold me on it as a classic. Number one: just before the first big action scene, Karen does a lovely little bone cracking neck stretch which I just had me …. Okay, that’s never going to convince people. But number two. Oh, number two. I don’t want to spoil anything, but after crying with laughter through the entire fight scene in the hospital, a kinda cliche action movie set up that went full throttle with the more wacky elements like something out of the Cornetto trilogy, there was no way in feminazi hell I could dislike this movie. All faults were forgiven. Luckily then, there are so few.

Karen Gillan's sarcastic existence aside, that’s why the film works so well for me. It straddles this line between stylish, serious Lady Wick-athon, modern neon Noir gangster flick, and slapstick silly British comedy-genre film, taking the best of each and not sacrificing one for the other. There’s little outright comedy but when it dips into the genre it somehow melts together perfectly like a s'mores.

The action pushes its boundaries too. The big set piece towards the end signifies this more than anything else. Usually when the heroes fighting in different groups we get this staggered tension. One big bad is defeated, then oh no, we have to finish up the fight in the second room and raise the tension again, and then oh no, there's a bomb or something, raise the tension again! Not so here. All four separate fights are edited so sublimely their tension rises as one and they are resolved in the same shuddering climax. That's care and attention folks. The finale is very clever too, rather than rehash the previous action we get a very stylish take on a fight scene that functions so well at telling the story I’m reminded of how groundbreaking bullet time was. This is better. It's honestly just such a joy to watch these goddesses of cinema move around the scenery. Busting heads is a bonus. Some might argue the movie is noticeably weaker when these drawn out glory moments go on too long, especially in succession. The slow motion heroine entrance shots, the lingering eye contact that we definitely caught on to in the first two seconds, they make the style of the film seem heavy handed. The pacing could do with a tiny bit of adjustment in that case. However, it didn’t bother me personally because I was so invested in the characters. Goddesses moving around scenery, remember? Honestly, it’s great to see such icons eating up the screen time. Could they benefit from actual character development? Sure. But that's not the type of film this is. Too much backstory for too many characters and it starts to fall apart. It falls into the drama area and then the comedy doesn't work. It's all about balance.

The support cast are so well drawn too that I never felt at odds with the focus of the movie because, yeah, the story is predictable and cliche but it’s in the telling of the story. I love these caricatures. The way the librarians communicate. The way Florence lingers around influencing her teammates with a soft hand. It’s sublime and sapphic, and carries all the weight of Michelle Yeoh’s history and star power. And give me more. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast, personally. They do them justice. Plus those scenes where you think it’s going one way but the story goes another. There’s a set up for a big confrontation that ultimately is resolved in a tiny conversation and it felt refreshing. They can do that. Why can’t they do that? These women can do anything. They are John Wick. They are Birds of Prey. And they are Gunpowder Milkshakes, and I need my sugar.

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