I admit that I sometimes have a problem with delayed gratification. This became painfully clear last October, when I reviewed Quentin Tarantinoís fourth film, Kill Bill Vol. I. I loved the movie Ė it was on my ten best list Ė but at the same time I felt some dismay at having to wait to see the rest of the story. My only consolation was that Miramax was advertising the arrival of Vol. II in February of this year. Well guess what? February came and went, and so did March. In the end, Kill Bill fans like myself have had to wait a full six months for the conclusion. I know I should stop whining, especially since I waited three years to see the entirety of The Lord of the Rings and itíll be a sum total of six years for the new Star Wars trilogy to play out. Still, I loved Tarantinoís film so much that the wait was painful.
All right, enough of my bitching and moaning. Kill Bill Vol. II was worth the wait, and thatís all that matters.
The story picks up right where Vol. I left off. The Bride (Uma Thurman) is cruising down a desert road in her convertible, heading toward an inevitable confrontation with Bill (David Carradine). In the filmís first chapter, we get a 15-minute black-and-white flashback to that infamous day when Bill and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad showed up at the tiny chapel where the Bride was getting married and gunned down everybody. This, you will certainly recall, is why the Bride set out on the titular mission in the first place. What you might not expect is the reasoning behind either the massacre. More on that later, though.
Before getting to Bill, the Bride must first visit the two remaining members of the DiVAS: Budd (Michael Madsen) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). At first, things donít go so well. Budd gets the upper hand on the Bride and buries her alive (in a horrific scene that will seriously unnerve claustrophobics such as myself). Believe it or not, she has a way of getting out of that predicament, as we learn in an extended flashback during which the Bride studies under the tutelage of a kung fu master called Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). Once free from her pine box, the revenge scenario continues. The one-eyed Elle gets a comeuppance that you can probably predict, but then thereís a little finishing touch that is pure Tarantino. Rest assured, youíll either cheer or gag. Maybe both.
That aside, Kill Bill Vol. II isnít nearly as violent as Vol. I. The hyper-stylized violence only makes an occasional appearance this time around. Whereas the first installment was all frenzied action, this one fills in all the gaps in story. We learn who the Bride really is, who Bill is, and why he tried to kill her. I refuse to give anything significant away, but itís fair to conclude that the two have a love/hate relationship. The final chapter of the story is nearly a full hour long. Rather than having the bride go in and quickly off Bill with her custom-made Samurai sword, Tarantino tosses a major surprise in our direction. This causes the two central characters to sit around and talk for a while. We get to know them much more fully at this point, which makes their eventual call to action increasingly dramatic.
It will be extremely interesting to see the DVD version of Kill Bill when itís put together into one big four-hour movie. One of the things Tarantino does, which will be even more effective when viewed in a single sitting, is to emulate the styles of various movie genres. Vol. I had a strong influence from samurai movies, as well as a Japanese anime sequence. Vol. II opens with a heavy film noir feel and graduates to a section done in the style of kung fu flicks. Whatís interesting is that the director, throughout his works, takes genres often considered less than distinguished and elevates them into something more. It serves a good point: just because something isnít artsy doesnít mean itís not good cinema.
In my first review, I praised the performance from Uma Thurman, noting that she brought more emotion to the role than you would expect. Thatís especially true in the second half. The Bride (whose real name, by the way, is eventually revealed) is not just a vengeance-minded assassin; sheís a woman with hopes and dreams that have guided her actions. Thurman is required to perform some very tender scenes near the end, and she handles them beautifully. Somehow she failed to get an Oscar nod for Vol. I. Hopefully that will be corrected at next yearís awards.
The supporting cast is just as good, particularly David Carradine as Bill. He had very little screen time in the first installment, whereas this time he has much more opportunity to develop his character. Bill is not the cold, heartless killer we might have initially assumed him to be. Quite the opposite, in fact. Like the Bride, he has very human motivations for his actions. I just love how this film (as a whole) subverts our expectations. In Vol. I we take it for granted that Bill is evil incarnate. By the time the Bride is reunited with him, we have a whole different perspective. Carradine is superb in the role.
One thing you can always say about a Quentin Tarantino movie, though, is that Quentin Tarantino is the real star. I mean that in a good way. His sparkling dialogue and alchemic way of turning pulp influences into gold is the real draw of any film he makes. For example, Bill gives a lengthy speech near the end in which he dissects the origin of Superman, then applies his theory to the Bride. If you heard the dialogue without knowing you wrote it, youíd immediately peg it as Tarantinoís work. Everything is so well written that it never seems trite or gimmicky. The same goes for the various styles the film imitates. Even when using those corny camera zooms that are indicative to kung fu movies, Tarantino avoids the trap of seeming silly. His movies take the best parts of his movie-obsessed mind and combine them into something both original and magical.
The Kill Bill series has been a treat from start to finish. Thereís just nothing else like it out there. This is bold, breathtaking cinema that makes me remember why I love the movies.
( out of four)
Kill Bill Vol. II is rated R for violence, language, and brief drug use. The running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes.
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