Kill Bill: Volume Two
2004Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen
n retrospect I wasn’t particularly impressed with the first installment of Tarantino’s Kill Bill. I found it more than a bit self-indulgent in its style and lacking in its characters.
The reason Volume 2 is a superior film is not because it eliminates these flaws but because Tarantino makes them less salient. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an often masturbatory exercise in style (honestly, which of his films, save for Jackie Brown, isn’t?) but the narrative flows so seamlessly that all its stylistic departures hardly appear distracting. You have to hand it to him; he can weave a compelling narrative.
Of course, whether you appreciate it or not depends on your own view of Tarantino. In a way, for the same reasons one can praise him, one can just as easily condemn him. Yes, he does have a knack for writing sharp dialogue, but on the other hand, all his characters merely serve as his voice box exhibiting the same geeky interests as himself and thereby lacking any sort of distinction from each other. Likewise, it’s apparent that his knowledge of film history is limitless, but to the same extent, it walks a fine lime between homage and mere quotation.
The best indicator as to whether you’ll enjoy Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is how much you enjoyed the first one, bearing in mind that this time around Tarantino has eliminated a good chunk of the gory action and replaced it with a whole lot of conversation. In other words, if you’re coming for the action, steer clear; but if you’re here for the same reasons you came to Pulp Fiction, you’re in luck.
Not that all the dialogue works, but what does functions on a hypnotic level. David Carradine’s performance in particular is absolutely spellbinding. It’s not that he simply adopts the persona of a villain, but he gives that character such depth and compassion that we almost don’t want the Bride to exact her revenge on him. He’s not the ruthless person we were introduced to.
The film is littered with slight surprises like this that in any other film would feel predictable or contrived. Part of its success lies in the way Tarantino introduces or reintroduces information. He doesn’t want to weigh anything heavy-handedly. He lets us forget about certain pieces of information and then reminds us of them later when they become most essential to the situation.
The plot breaks down in much the same way as the last film. It’s separated into individual chapters which in turn appear to function in their own stylistic terms. In fact, each one could be an individual movie itself, but all of them possess the generic conventions Tarantino so desires to ape. Contained within each of these are some truly fascinating sequences. My favorite moment comes when the Bride (whose name I won’t reveal, not that it’s that big a deal) is buried alive. The camera remains inside the coffin and from the darkness over her frantic panting we hear the dirt crashing down from above. It’s a truly frightening scene.
I also enjoyed Michael Madsen’s portrayal of Budd. When we see him working his job as a bouncer in a run-down strip club, we can’t help but feel sorry for him. In fact, none of the Bride’s targets, except for Elle Driver, are unsympathetic. If you recall, Vernita Green, much like the bride, wanted to raise her only child. O-ren witnessed her own parents’ brutal death. Budd lives a life of regret as a lonely alcoholic and Bill, well; I won’t reveal his source of sorrow, but know that he’s not an impenetrable monster.
For this I commend Tarantino. Revenge isn’t an easy task when you depict the targets as human beings. It’s that human element that gives the story all the intensity it possesses.
Still, it’s hard for me to really entirely praise Tarantino. For some of us film snobs, he’s worn out his welcome. Yet, for those who will unquestionably defend him, there’s little I can say here that will alter their desire to see it. As long as one approaches Kill Bill: Vol. 2 for what is, I doubt it will disappoint and, who knows, maybe you’ll find a little philosophy behind all the stylish flights of fancy.