I never quite connected with Volume 1. Sure I enjoyed it and perhaps it has even grown on me a bit more over time. But ultimately it seemed like Tarantino was more interested in giving himself an incurable case of the giggles than telling a revenge story with some depth. Kill Bill Vol. 2 changes all that, proving not only to be a great film on its own, but making Kill Bill Vol. 1 better in the process. Tarantino never should have split this movie up.
Kill Bill’s second act opens pretty much where the first left off, with The Bride (Uma Thurman) working her way down the list to kill Bill. She’s finished off two of Bill’s assassins, leaving only two more. But this film doesn’t rush right into another samurai showdown. Instead it starts right off developing characters and dishing out heady Tarantino dialogue aimed at not only telling a great story but offering QT’s unique brand of social commentary as well. Suddenly Uma isn’t just playing a mindless automaton, but a character with life and emotional resonance. By the end I really cared about The Bride and that’s not something I can say I felt after Kill Bill Vol. 1.
Uma is really amazing this time around, grappling with the soft side of a brutal killer. She’s playing a very physical role, in which she’s battered, beaten, and brutally assaulted and just keeps on fighting. She’s driven by cold revenge, yes. But by the end there’s a lot more to it and Uma does a brilliant job of conveying her conflicted, dark character as someone trying to be something she really isn’t. For me her best moments occur with Carradine, whose amazing presence seems to bring out the best in them both.
Yes, David Carradine is Bill which might be a spoiler except that it’s already been spoiled in every advertisement for the film. This is the best work Carradine has ever done in a long and shining career. Bill is a strong and visible presence throughout Volume 2 and Carradine absolutely owns the role. He’s a total bastard, with a disturbed sweet side and a unique philosophy on life. The climax of the film isn’t some massive fight scene, but a brutally honest discussion between Bill and The Bride in which the two finally lay all their cards on the table. Carradine’s performance is positively stunning. Tarantino has managed to bring something out of this aging actor that maybe we’ve never quite seen before. He’s a killer, knows he’s a killer, and is at peace with that. Carradine was born to play a murdering bastard and deliver what is perhaps the best dialogue the spastic mind of QT has ever written. I’m particularly blown away by his Superman monologue. Not because it’s some sort of geek reference, but because of what it says about The Bride and well, the whole damn human race in general.
The payoff of this thing is just perfect. The supporting characters, like Michael Madsen’s broken down Budd shine brilliantly. Budd’s the kind of guy that you’d love to see spun off into his own film. A has-been boozer, reduced from a dangerous killer to a lap dog for just about anyone who wants to walk all over him. Gordon Liu’s Pei Mei is a hilarious godsend. Cruel, cranky, and funny as a near parody of ancient Kung Fu masters. You almost wish there’d been more time to develop his relationship with The Bride. Even Daryl Hannah manages to take her somewhat one note character from the first film and bring a living breathing, cold-hearted bitch assassin to beautiful, writhing life.
The long and short of it is that this movie works in a way the first one never did. It’s as if someone finally got Tarantino to sit down, quit playing around and really tell a story. There’s not so much of a focus on violence and action. Rather, like Pulp Fiction violent things just happen in the course of telling a tale of revenge. Some of the silly, cool, film-geek touches are still there, but they don’t overwhelm the film the way they did with Volume 1. Instead of simply being over the top for the fun of being over the top, everything about this film is more epic, more cinematic, from intense character development and clipping QT dialogue to the more score-like soundtrack. The beauty of it is that Volume 2 manages to be a more serious film without losing any of the kitschy fun of part one. Yes the music is more soundtrack like, but it’s still just as eclectic and uniquely well… Kill Bill.
Together, Volumes 1 and 2 comprise my favorite Tarantino movie so far. Yes, better than Pulp Fiction. Separately, Volume 2 is still a fantastic film, but Volume 1 suffers because all the character development happens in Volume 2. Splitting these up was a huge mistake, which audiences can instantly rectify simply by buying both films on DVD a few months down the road and watching them back to back.
If the anime sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1 was your favorite moment, then you may be disappointed by what KB2 offers up. But if you were hoping Tarantino could pull out another Pulp Fiction, be ready to wholeheartedly embrace Kill Bill Vol. 2.