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Kill Bill: Vol. 2   B

Miramax Films

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Samuel L. Jackson, Bo Svenson.

Review by Rob Vaux

Quentin Tarantino and Miramax Films were very shrewd to split Kill Bill in half. Far from the naked money-grab it might have appeared, it functions as a perfect thematic division -- two films, separate and unique, telling one story. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 produces a new feel, a new tone, and a new atmosphere, while still maintaining the same characters, plot threads, and overall philosophy as Vol. 1. Unfortunately, it also maintains Tarantino's frustrating egotism while slowing the pace to an unwieldy crawl. But like its predecessor, it offers more than enough in return.

The pace is Vol. 2's most immediately noticeable difference. The first film's breathless action is reduced to staccato bursts rather than extended showstoppers. Vol. 1's fight with the Crazy 88s made an ideal breaking point, which Vol. 2 wisely declines to top. Instead, dialogue is the order of the day: tense, biting conversations punctuated by brief bits of mayhem. They play like blue-collar haiku, subtle enough to disguise how easily they enrapture us. Tarantino loves to hear his characters speak, and while they rarely diverge into the pop-culture musing we might expect, they're no less beautiful for it.

Since we already know the story, there's little need to catch us up. The vengeful Bride (Uma Thurman) is still on a quest to slay her former master and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. With her first two targets now dispatched, she sets her sights on the remaining three: her bitter one-eyed rival Elle (Daryl Hannah), the laconic has-been Budd (Michael Madsen), and Bill himself (David Carradine), whose relationship with the Bride is fully revealed here. Tarantino applies an observational approach to their encounters -- save Elle's, which is simply a flat-out catfight -- allowing the Bride and her targets to size each other up before cutting each other down. He separates each sequence with a series of flashbacks, fully detailing the wedding chapel massacre that began it all, as well as the Bride's not-quite-tongue-in-cheek training with white-haired kung fu master Pei Mei (Gordon Liu).

While the tone may be quieter, however, the kaleidoscope style carries over seamlessly from Vol. 1. Tarantino's postmodern gear-shifting -- as well as the self-indulgence that accompanies it -- becomes all the more apparent without the first film's flashiness. The jumble box of influences leaps out at us, from the expected spaghetti westerns and third-reel kung-fu pictures (Pei Mei was a staple of the genre) to Richard Matheson horror stories and Heckle & Jeckle cartoons. It's always amusing -- Tarantino is skilled enough to keep them from getting out of hand -- but it can't always keep the film's energy up. Vol. 2 feels exceedingly long at points, with scenes that serve little purpose save to hear the characters talk. Normally, that's a selling point with Tarantino, but even his lines have limits. Certain passages here are supremely unnecessary.

Vol. 2 also stumbles a bit by asking us to take the characters seriously. The first film was devoid of real humanity; this one makes a valiant effort to pick up the slack, but it's a little late to the dance. With the world now firmly set as a cartoon, the sudden appearance of genuine depth is a trifle jolting. To be sure, there are some fine performances -- Carradine is hypnotic and there's a gem of a scene for actor Michael Parks (playing a Mexican pimp) -- but Tarantino's auteurial stamp is still too glib to evoke the emotions it wants. Had we cared more about the Bride in Vol. 1 we wouldn't be so hard-pressed to muster our sympathies now.

On the other hand, the distinction demonstrates how fascinating Vols. 1 and 2 are when placed together. The first film felt like a blender set to "high"; the second sits down and contemplates what came splattering out. Each is unified in and of itself, and yet they are still one piece. Their differences draw attention to each other, each half enhancing its twin in ways that wouldn't exist without a six-month break in between them. It's a sign of good craftsmanship, and the care with which it has been assembled belies its flippant attitude. At the very least, Tarantino is smart enough to confound our expectations; while Vol. 2 flirts with the grindhouse as fiercely as its predecessor, it never succumbs to laziness or poor workmanship. Indeed, it confirms the director's love of good trash, and allows us -- in its own small way -- to enjoy his passion as well. If true brilliance is gone, then he can still command our attention, and his chosen shtick, while no longer unique, is at least uniquely his. By all rights, he should have been finished a decade ago, but like the Bride herself, it's tough to keep him down. For better or worse, Kill Bill is a sign that he's here to stay.

Review published 04.16.2004.

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