Kill Bill (Volume 2) (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Two things are readily apparent about Kill Bill Volume 2. First, unlike its predecessor, this is a complete movie. It stands on its own. It is possible to see and enjoy Volume 2 in a way that was not true of Volume 1. Viewed in retrospect, the first installment now seems like an easily discarded prologue. The real meat is in Volume 2. Secondly, Quentin Tarantino needs a new editor - someone who can convince him to make the really hard cuts. Sally Menke, who has held that post for all of Tarantino's movies, couldn't/wouldn't/didn't convince the ego-centric filmmaker that eliminating about 30 minutes of filler from Kill Bill Volume 2 would have made it a leaner, meaner motion picture. The running time is 130 minutes; it should have been about 1:30.

Gripes about the needless length are not minor. There are too many scenes in this film that damage the pacing. It feels bloated - as if the director, given the freedom afforded by lopping off 100 minutes and calling it Volume 1, could re-insert all sorts of material originally slated for the cutting room floor. (Do the math. If the original cut of Kill Bill was about 190 minutes, and the running times of the split parts are 108 minutes and 130 minutes respectively, that means Tarantino got an extra 40 minutes.) Rather than flowing smoothly, Kill Bill Volume 2 lurches from point-to-point, giving screen time to secondary characters who are neither colorful enough nor intriguing enough to warrant it. This is the case of a director having fallen too much in love with his material. Every scene is a child; he won't give it up. The result is that much of Volume 2, for all of its strengths, is self-indulgent.

That's the bad news. The good news is that, despite its lugubriousness, it's still a good motion picture - a clear improvement upon episode one. There's much less action, a lot more talking, and a legitimate effort to build the characters played by Uma Thurman and David Carradine. Those in search of a kung-fu gore-fest like Volume 1 will be sorely disappointed. There are a few action sequences (about four, depending on what you count as "action"), all of which are quick and brutal. There's nothing even as sustained as the one-on-one between Thurman and Vivica A Fox in Volume 1. Volume 2 is a talky affair. Although much of the dialogue isn't vintage Tarantino (except a scene like Bill's "Superman" monologue), there's no sense that the characters are inflicted with run-on-at-the-mouth disease.

The movie picks up where Volume 1 ended, with the Bride (Thurman) gunning for her surviving two would-be assassins and Bill (Carradine). There's not much more to the film than that. Budd (Michael Madsen) takes longer to dispatch than the Bride plans, but Elle (Daryl Hannah) goes a lot more quickly. The confrontation with Bill involves more talking than fighting, a choice which fits the circumstances. About 50% of the movie is used to provide backstory. We get a lengthy flashback to events leading up to the wedding chapel massacre, as well as a lengthy training sequence in which the Bride learns to become an expert assassin under the tutelage of Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). (For those unfamiliar with the Hong Kong flicks that serve as Tarantino's main inspiration for this segment of the movie, think Yoda with a bad attitude.) The background material in Volume 2 fills out the characters nicely. The Bride even gets a name: Beatrix Kiddo. And, as hinted at during the last scene of Volume 1, she has a new role as well: Mommy.

From a stylistic standpoint, Tarantino pulls a lot of rabbits out of his hat. Parts of the movie are in black-and-white (and, since Thurman is dressed all in white, she appears to glow). There are shifts in the aspect ratio. (One sequence is in 1.33:1.) One fight scene involves a split-screen. A two-minute scene occurs in complete darkness. The soundtrack occasionally borrows from '70s exploitation scores, often with intentionally humorous results. Some of this is probably Tarantino showing off, but, for the most part, it provides a satisfying visual variability.

If Thurman was good in Volume 1 as an avenging angel, she's better here, where the role requires a much greater range. We see a lot more of Beatrix than a woman bent on avenging her attempted murder, and Thurman never misses a beat. Volume 1 highlighted the actress' physical prowess; Volume 2 highlights her emotional capacity. David Carradine proves to be an apt adversary. He's calm and mature, with only a hint of danger in his eyes. He prefers words to weapons, and is apparently a loving father. One of the strengths of the film is that Tarantino and Carradine develop Bill into a person, rather than simply a cartoonish, frothing-at-the-mouth villian. Michael Madsen is his usual laconic self and Daryl Hannah plays against type as a conscienceless killer. Gordon Liu, a veteran Chinese actor, has a standout role lampooning the traditional kung-fu master role. (Count the number of times he flips his beard.) And there's an throw-away cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as an organ player.

I enjoyed Kill Bill Volume 2 more than Volume 1. The second movie is less kinetic but more satisfying. Tonally, the two films are different, which may be the result of the split. Hopefully, Tarantino's original, single-movie cut of Kill Bill will eventually be available on DVD. With the two parts re-knitted and much of the extraneous material removed, this could be a great motion picture, right up there with Pulp Fiction. As it currently stands, Kill Bill is a victim of its director's ego and its distributor's greed. The moments of greatness make it worth seeing, and there's certainly plenty of entertainment to be found here, but it's hard not to lament what might have been.

Kill Bill (Volume 2) (United States, 2004)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Gordon Liu
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Music: RZA
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films
Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 2004-04-16
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1