WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Gunpowder Milkshake, now available on Netflix.
At the core of Gunpowder Milkshake are the women who would do anything to protect Emily, a little girl whose father was killed by Sam, and this includes preventing Emily from experiencing more trauma than she has to. However, Gunpowder Milkshake is not the only recent film to do this, as Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey also sees the titular characters prioritize Cassandra Cain’s well being over anything else.
In Gunpowder Milkshake, after Emily’s father (Samuel Anderson) dies, Sam (Karen Gillan) makes it her mission to protect the child at all costs. This is partially because of guilt, but it’s also because Sam has a soft spot for kids, refusing to kill them and putting her life on the line for Emily (Chloe Coleman) even before they meet, and this goes beyond physical harm.
For instance, when Sam loses feeling in her arms, Emily has to drive, but with goons after them, this means she needs Emily to use the car like a battering ram to kill these men. While this is necessary, Sam knows Emily witnessing this can further traumatize her, so Sam tells her to close her eyes, as she will be guiding her through this.
This isn’t the only time Emily’s physical, emotional and mental well being are prioritized. During the attack on the library, Sam reveals that she killed her father in an attempt to keep Emily away from all the bloodshed, which works. Later when Emily and the librarians agree they should help Sam and Scarlett (Lena Headey), it is again decided that it would be better to have Emily out of harm’s way. They even decide to have Madeline (Carla Gugino) stay with her just in case, as opposed to having her on deck, despite how deadly she is with a gun.
Eventually, some of the killers get into the basement, and Madeline knows she must take care of this, but seeing or hearing what she is about to do could further traumatize a child who’s already lost her dad and been kidnapped in one night. In an attempt to make things a little better, Madeline puts a pair of headphones on Emily and asks her to play the music as loud as possible.
Of course, this whole evening is already going to scar Emily, but the steps these women have taken in order to lessen the blow do stand out and are in character, with Scarlet and the librarians always putting a child’s safety first, and Sam learning from the women who’ve raised her. Saving Emily’s life is important, but remembering she is a child not used to the life an assassin is also significant, so softening the blow, while it does not make up for her father’s death, is more than expected, especially when these small interactions on the surface may seem unnecessary when everyone’s life is on the line.
As for Birds of Prey, audiences see something similar. Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco) is at the center of the conflict, as she swallowed the diamond everyone is after. Originally, Harley (Margot Robbie) plans on handing her over to Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), but eventually the kid grows on her, and she’s determined to save Cassandra in the end. Harley is not the only one invested, with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also wanting to save Cassandra, but like the women of Gunpowder Milkshake, they know that saving her life doesn’t mean she will come out of this unscathed.
Black Canary is the best example of this, as she is neighbors with Cassandra and tries to be there for when she sees she comes from a toxic household. Later on, when Black Mask puts a bounty on Cassandra, Black Canary — who was against becoming a vigilante like her mother — puts everything on the line to help the kid.
She is not alone in prioritizing Cassandra over everything else, and this can been seen in the fun house fight scene. While there are goons coming at the Birds of Prey and Harley, each one has a moment to check in with Cassandra, as opposed to focusing all their attention on the more pressing matter. They’re small interactions, like Huntress reminding Cassandra she shouldn’t have to see this, Montoya pulling her away from the main fight, Black Canary checking in on her and Harley keeping tabs on her location; however, they speak loudly and ground the film.
In both Birds of Prey and Gunpowder Milkshake, it’s believable these women know that surviving the night does not mean escaping trauma. All of them at some point have gone through hell, and they know what this could mean for a child.
Cassandra and Emily will never be the same, and what these women do for them do not make up for the nightmares they’ve lived, but there is something endearing about them trying to make this just a little bit better. While in a lot of action movies some kids need to grow up fast in order to survive, Birds of Prey and Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake prove that the adults can always do more for the children in danger, even if it’s with small gestures.
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