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Kill Bill, Vol. 2
The first volume of Kill Bill ended with one of the most spectacular martial arts sequences ever seen in an American film. Robert Richardson's glorious color cinematography combined with three different fight scenes to cap a deliriously entertaining (if somewhat empty) film. Viewers looking for a repeat of that in Vol. 2 will be sorely disappointed.
Instead, Kill Bill, Vol. 2 is a more character-driven affair. The film opens with a nice, short scene of The Bride (Uma Thurman) talking to the camera while driving in a convertible. This is writer and director Quentin Tarantino's way of reminding us what happened in part one. We then hook up with the film in a flashback. We're at the church where the original massacre took place. The Bride is preparing for her small, Texas wedding when old boyfriend and mentor Bill (David Carradine) shows up. At first, their reunion seems tender and sweet, but we know how this scene ends. It's surprising that, after the over-the-top violence of part I, this scene pulls back, letting all of the violence occur off-screen. It's the first indication that part II is a decidedly different affair.
The next sequence is even more different. A long scene set in El Paso revolves around the character of Bud (Michael Madsen), another of the people on The Bride's list marked for death. But before Uma Thurman shows up, we get to know a bit about Bud: his lame job at a rural strip club, his past relationship with estranged brother Bill. And when Uma shows up, the violence is short if not so sweet. I won't spoil the surprise, but there's not much of that anyway. We know that the movie has to end with the final confrontation between The Bride and Bill, so any tension that might exist about Uma's fate is decidedly stripped away.
Before that big showdown, Uma has to face down her nemesis Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and meet with an old friend of Bill's. There's also another flashback, this one with a Chinese master. Shot in an ugly version of digital video, this confrontation doesn't quite have the punch the fight scenes in Vol. 1 had.
Since the martial arts sequences are toned down in Vol. 2, the focus shifts to the various conversations. Unfortunately, Tarantino seems to have run out of clever witticisms. Instead of Scripture quoting and the hilarious argument about foot massages from Pulp Fiction, we have this scintillating exchange. "So, how did you find me?" "I'm the man." I'm the man?! That's the best QT can do?
Vol. 2 is also undermined by the way the violence is handled. In the first installment, there was a profound sense of honor associated with the violence. The Bride was gaining her deserved revenge, but her opponents behaved honorably, understanding that there was a code to follow and traditions to uphold. Vol. 2 ignores all of that completely. Here, the various characters are happy to act deceitfully, taking any advantage they can. It might be more realistic, but it doesn't have the panache of the first movie.
The most painful flaw, however, is that Vol. 2 assumes that we care about these characters, that we're interested in The Bride as a person rather than as a force of vengeance, that we actually wonder how she'll react when she meets her long-lost daughter. So when The Bride and Bill meet for their final showdown, we first have a long (and to my mind, tedious) discussion about motivation. But Vol. 1 didn't give us any reason to care about these characters. We didn't (and still don't) have any understanding of why The Bride and Bill hooked up in the first place, so we certainly don't care whether they'll get back together. The scenes with Uma and her daughter are touching, but more in a manipulative, Hallmark sort of way than anything organic.
I freely admit that part of my disappointment was that I was expecting something different than what Tarantino offers us. Given that other critics are raving about Vol. 2, that might say more about me than the movie. But I would argue that the first movie sets us up for one kind of film: highly stylized action pastiche. For Vol. 2 to give us a completely different movie--one that focuses on the deficiencies of Vol. 1--is both misguided and frustrating. I would love to see how this movie was first envisioned, as one complete, full film instead of the two entirely different parts Tarantino has created. He had to have had something in mind, some way of integrating the disparate elements. Instead, we're offered two movies that have nothing in common with each other besides the actors and characters' names.
J. Robert Parks 4/19/2004