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KILL BILL VOL. 2 / A+
U.S. Release Date: April 16, 2004
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine
MPAA Rating: R
by C.A. Wolski
From its opening sequence of the vengeful Bride (Uma Thurman) giving a 30 second recap of Kill Bill Vol. 1 to the coda, which finds her in much the same state as she was at the beginning of her journey, Kill Bill Vol. 2 not only continues the astounding, blood-speckled action of the first movie, but does much more – it delivers a lively, and, at times, thought provoking romance of self-styled natural born killers who aren’t quite sure if they should kiss or kill each other.
Like Vol. 1, Tarantino tells his story not in a traditional, linear way, but in the way it will be best understood (and one doesn’t have to see Vol. 1 to know what’s going on, Vol. 2 stands on its own). The first movie establishes the Bride a.k.a. Black Mamba as a force of nature to be reckoned with. Sure, she’s a bad woman, but she’s also efficacious, and, probably for the first time in her life, justified in killing everyone who stands in her way.
In Vol. 2, Tarantino tones down the action a tad and shows us the motivation for her single-minded pursuit of Bill and his minions. It’s not just that Bill put a bullet in her head and left her for dead, but that he loved her and shot her anyway. There’s no question why the Bride should be mad. And, this is one bad lady you don’t want to rile.
An homage to both spaghetti Westerns and Chinese kung fu movies, Vol. 2 is more than a wry nod to the movies Tarantino grew up watching in his hometown of Torrance, Calif. Instead, Tarantino cleverly takes the conventions of these genres, and gives them a twist. This is particularly evident in the Bride’s showdown with the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS) Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) and Bill’s brother Bud (Michael Madsen). The outcome is inevitable – as is dictated by the revenge genre – but Tarantino doesn’t take the obvious way out in the way justice is meted out.
When she finally does track down Bill (David Carradine) in Mexico, the Bride finds that her final showdown with her nemesis and ex-lover is going to be much different than she and the audience expected. It is in the muted final sequence that Tarantino’s writing, directing and actors shine. He gives us one of the best finales for an action picture in recent memory without resorting to idiotic chases, fights or explosions. If the apocalyptic fight sequence between the Bride and the Crazy 88 in Vol. 1 promised to redefine the action sequence, the finale in Vol. 2 promises to redefine the entire action genre.
The power of Kill Bill – as with all great movies – is in the writing. Tarantino took one of the most basic stories of all and put an original spin on it. We’ve heard and seen the revenge tale a thousand times and will see and hear it a thousand more, but it is in the telling that Tarantino’s tale sparkles. True, none of the characters, including the wronged Bride, are inherently sympathetic, but Tarantino paints compelling portraits of these evildoers nonetheless. Madsen’s Bud gets a long, seemingly superfluous sequence detailing his life as a bouncer at a seedy strip club, Hannah’s Elle Driver gets less time but we learn an awful lot about her, and Bill looms large through it all. In the end, in a brilliant speech, he reminds us that we can never really escape who we are.
The multi-layered script is only part of the reason Kill Bill works. Tarantino, in the best of the auteur tradition, has delivered a completely integrated finished product. From the stunning cinematography – particularly the black and white sequences – by Robert Richardson to the suitably evocative score by the RZA and Robert Rodriquez to the seamless editing by Sally Menke, Kill Bill scores on every front. This is the kind of movie that reminds cinemaphiles why they love going to the pictures.
The cast, as in the first volume, also continues to shine. Thurman carries the picture comfortably on her shoulders, able to convey a believable character that is both tough and vulnerable. However, the standouts are Carradine as Bill and Michael Parks as one of Bill’s warped father figures Esteban Vihaio. Carradine plays Bill with a kind of mild menace tinged with regret that makes him chilling. Parks’ performance echoes Carradine’s, but the menace is even more muted and effective.
With Kill Bill Vol. 2, Tarantino has delivered the best picture of the year, and arguably the first truly great movie of the 21st century.