Thursday, July 15, 2021

Gunpowder Milkshake


Hired assassin Samantha (Karen Gillan) follows the footsteps of her estranged mother Scarlet (Lena Headey) who was forced to abandon her as a child due to a botched mission that put their lives in danger. Growing up under the tutelage of Nathan (Paul Giamatti), she has served as one of the Firm’s elite hired guns, until one crucial mistake puts them in loggerheads with an influential crime syndicate. Tasked to track a man who stole money from the group, she finds his daughter Emily (Chloe Coleman), a kid eight and three quarters old orphaned by her mistake. Now on the run, she enlists the help of her librarian aunties: Anna May (Angela Bassett); Florence (Michele Yeoh); and Madeleine (Carla Gugino) who are hesitant to fight for and with her, at least not until the unexpected arrival of her long-lost mother who finally shows up to make amends.

What makes this work is, more or less, the reputation of these women as action stars. Gillan has had a lot of practice in Guardians of the Galaxy. Headey had her own Sarah Connor TV reboot. I don’t know if Bassett and Gugino had their own action film or TV roles, but of course you have Yeoh who was once a Bond girl and is basically considered as royalty in this genre. Watching all five of them get together and raise hell is a dream come true. Given their combined body of work, it is not that hard for suspension of disbelief to kick in.

The cinematography relies on a lot of neon, from hues to lights, which makes everything look like some sort of bubblegum action flick punctuated with plenty of gore. Add a kickass soundtrack and you end up with an audiovisual treat. The fight choreography is not quite Atomic Blonde or John Wick levels, but credible enough because we’ve already seen these ladies kick ass before. While guns are the main weapons of choice, we also get the delight of seeing them in combat using chains, hammers, an axe, and bayonets, among others. In a way, it also reminds you a bit of Kill Bill, even though the roaring rampage of revenge angle here is not as convincing.

The film ticks its racial diversity boxes well. The Boneheads have a white guy, an African American, and a Latino. The librarians have a white woman, an Asian, and an African American. Because of this, it didn’t feel awkward from that standpoint because everybody feels mostly represented. The problem with the characters is the distribution of genders. All of the protagonists are women. All of the antagonists are men. We might be turning this into yet another battle of the sexes narrative.

Couldn’t The Firm have had women in the mix to hunt Samantha and friends down? After all, she was once part of the group, right? Couldn’t the librarians have had a male member? This should not really matter but it’s rather problematic given how the story gives some sort of vibe that all men are evil and all women are victims fighting back. If Hollywood is to revolutionize this genre from the lens of gender equality, at least make sure that your characters are well-distributed so as not to reduce the storyline into nothing more than the contrived novelty of seeing women banding together to topple the patriarchy.

We are not saying this because we are favoring old white men in charge of Hollywood. We are saying this because if we are to hope for genuine equality, it should be by both men and women working together instead of trying to bring one another down ad nauseam based on the stereotypes forced upon them. That does not foster understanding, it just breeds more animosity. In any case, flipping genders for some of the characters here wouldn’t have made much of a difference, except maybe for the characters of Scarlet, Sam, and Emily to highlight the generational female empowerment subplot.

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