Movie review by Greg Carlson
Upon completion of Quentin Tarantino’s sprawling “Kill Bill” epic, the initial reaction is that the severed halves should most certainly be stitched back together for maximum impact. “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” sets out to do several things QT purposefully absented from the first outing, and while he manages to succeed (often against the odds – no matter what his ardent fans argue), the movie only holds up if you have seen the first part. Because the intention was to make one film all along, it is difficult to criticize “Volume 2” on the grounds of its tone and story alone.
While “Volume 1” skirted cinema’s heavenly firmament in its colorful blending of samurai sword-crossers and yakuza yarns, “Volume 2” aligns itself primarily with the dusty trails of Sergio Leone’s turf. Like the first outing, “Volume 2” is structured in such a way that allows side trips and diversions, and the best of these concerns a flashback dealing with the Bride’s martial arts training under the painful tutelage of Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), a spry master with godlike powers. Tarantino provides a legitimate reason for the inclusion of the Pai Mei scenes, as the Bride’s intense schooling ends up saving her life (not once but twice).
The Bride continues her “roaring rampage of revenge” against the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, but along the way, Tarantino makes more than enough room for loquacious stretches of indulgent dialogue that simultaneously grind the film to a snail’s pace and delight viewers with their cleverness. David Carradine’s Bill, who spent nearly all of “Volume 1” waiting in the wings, makes up for lost time with several speeches of faux-prudence and contemplation. As windy as the bamboo flute he plays to accompany his tales, Bill emerges as an enigma: for all his talk, he reveals very little.
Because “Kill Bill” is structured as a revenge saga, much of its time is reserved for the wicked obstacles personified by Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah, seen in “Volume 1” as the ghoulish nurse who whistles the “Twisted Nerve” theme) and Budd (Michael Madsen), the remaining members of Bill’s death squad. The sequences concerning Budd are among the movie’s most puzzling: why would a retired, world-class assassin work in a pathetic strip bar out in the boondocks, suffering verbal abuse from his boss and mopping out backed-up toilets? Budd’s choice of locale sets the stage for a bone-crunching showdown in his dilapidated trailer home, and while the trashy setting was used to greater comic effect in the battle between John Goodman and Nicolas Cage in “Raising Arizona,” Tarantino clearly relishes watching his combatants bust through flimsy walls and crash down on cheap furniture.
By the end of “Volume 2,” the Bride’s name has been revealed (although Tarantino opts to eschew the inclusion of another flashback to thoroughly explicate the backstory), and the movie’s final scenes come full circle, mirroring the thematic underpinnings of the Vernita Green showdown at the beginning of “Volume 1.” Uma Thurman, whose physical poise and self-assurance in “Volume 1” is matched by emotional resonance in “Volume 2,” injects no small amount of verisimilitude into the more far-fetched elements of her character’s predicament. Tarantino probably overstates his case on the nature of motherhood, at least insofar as it receives superficial treatment until the endgame, but there is no denying that as a dimension of the story, it makes the whole “Kill Bill” universe a pretty interesting place to visit.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/19/04.