Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004, Quentin Tarantino)

killbill2

Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Bride continues to hunt down and kill the people who attacked her on her wedding day…

What does QT do? Wrote and directed.

Notable characters:
* Bill (David Carradine) is finally seen on screen after his face-obscured cameos in Vol. 1. We learn that he tried to kill the Bride, who’d been his protégé, because she quit the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and was planning to marry a civilian. She was pregnant with his child, though, so he’s been raising the girl since the Bride fell into a coma. It’s a one-gear performance from Carradine.
* The Bride (Uma Thurman) – who we now learn is called Beatrix Kiddo – is seen in a wider variety of states than in Vol. 1. In the present-day scenes she’s still seeking revenge on Bill and the assassination squad, but in flashbacks we also see her youthful training sessions and pre-attack happiness. Thurman has more to play than just ‘badass killing people’ and the character has a journey this time.
* Reverend Harmony (Bo Svenson) and his wife (Jeannie Epper) feature in the scenes leading up to the wedding massacre, which is revealed to be at a wedding *rehearsal* rather than the ceremony itself. (Clunky dialogue is needed to explain why the Bride is in a wedding dress!) We also meet groom-to-be Tommy Plympton (Chris Nelson) and some of the Bride’s friends.
* Rufus (Samuel L Jackson) is the pianist at the church, who’s killed during the massacre. The character is shot mythically, with few close-ups and surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke, which helps mask the fact he has no purpose in the story whatsoever.
* Budd (Michael Madsen) has retired from the Deadly Vipers in the four years since the attack. He now lives in a trailer in the desert and works as a bouncer in a strip club. He actually feels guilty for what they did to the Bride, but that doesn’t stop him shooting her with rock salt and burying her alive. He’s later killed by his former colleague Elle Driver. We discover he’s Bill’s brother. Madsen’s pretty good.
* Larry Gomez (Larry Bishop) is Budd’s boss who fires him for being late.
* Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) drives to Budd’s in her muscle car when she learns he has the Bride’s Hattori Hanzo sword. She offers to buy it from him, but betrays him and kills him with a poisonous snake. The Bride then shows up, fights Elle, plucks out her one surviving eye, and leaves her with the snake. The set-piece brawl is overloaded with sound effects and features a Sergio Leone-style slow build-up to violence that’s then over before you know it.
* Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) is a powerful and skilful martial-arts master who teaches the Bride. He seems to have superhuman abilities and is a harsh teacher. He’s basically an unlikable version of Mr Miyagi.
* Esteban Vihaio (Michael Parks) is a pimp and a friend of Bill’s. The Bride visits him to find out where Bill is. It’s a redundant scene (the information could be seeded elsewhere), which slows the film down precisely when we want to race to the climax.
* BB (Perla Haney-Jardine) is the Bride and Bill’s daughter, who the Bride believed had died after the wedding massacre.
* Karen (Helen Kim) is an assassin we see in a flashback – she’s trying to kill the Bride moments after she’s discovered she’s pregnant.

Returning actors: As well as characters who’d been in Vol. 1, we now get Samuel L Jackson (this is his fourth Tarantino role) and Sig Haig (who’d been in Jackie Brown). Vol. 1 actors Michael Parks and Gordon Liu actually play new roles here.

Music: Like in the first Kill Bill, the source songs and incidental music – by Robert Rodriguez and RZA – give the film an epic, mournful quality. The best track we hear is About Her, Malcolm McLaren’s moody cover of the Zombies hit She’s Not There.

Time shifts and chapters: The convention of having named chapters continues from Vol. 1: this time they’re called ‘Massacre at Two Pines’, ‘The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz’, ‘The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei’, ‘Elle and I’ and ‘Face to Face’. But the timeline is more jumbled than in Vol. 1. In the present day, the Bride goes after Budd, fights Elle and tracks down Bill. But we see also lengthy flashbacks to the lead-up of Bill’s attack (which is in black and white) and the Bride’s earlier training regime with Pai Mei (positioned so we learn about a technique just before she uses it in the present). We finally learn why Vol. 1 began out-of-sequence with the Verdita episode: it means that the series is topped and tailed by the vengeful Bride encountering a child.

Connections: Pai Mei is a stock character who’d appeared in numerous Hong Kong martial-arts movies. Quentin Tarantino considered dubbing his Cantonese dialogue into English – and doing it deliberately badly – but decided against it. Since this film’s release, the director has occasionally mooted a Kill Bill Vol. 3, usually suggesting it would be about the Bride’s grown-up daughter.

Review: This concluding part of the story is longer than Kill Bill Vol. 1, so there’s more space for the story to breathe and the characters feel richer. It’s also more dynamic than the first film. Not everything goes the Bride’s way, for example. In Vol. 1 she felt like an untouchable superhero who would never lose, whereas here she’s buried alive and tormented and presented with emotional turmoil. It’s more engaging storytelling generally, rather than *just* being cool fight scenes. However, this comes at the expense of brevity. This is a slower movie and it sometimes drags. (Both the Pai Mei episode and the climax with Bill seem to go on and on.) At least there are some pretty images along the way. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is going for a wide-open feel. In the church you can almost feel the breeze coming in from outside, while Budd’s trailer is parked in a dramatic canyon from a John Ford film. There’s also a nice recurring visual motif concerning doorways (at Budd’s trailer, at the church, at a diner, in a hotel room, at Bill’s house…), as well as graves and other rectangular barriers. The film’s aspect ratio even shrinks to 4:3 in a key scene about the Bride being trapped. Having said all that, one of the best sequences in the film is just a blank screen, with the sound of the Bride’s grave being filled in. Taken together, Kill Bill is a mad, sprawling and chaotic four-hour epic. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t.

Seven pregnancy tests out of 10

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