Mark Reviews Movies

KILL BILL: VOL. 2

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu

MPAA Rating:  (for violence, language and brief drug use)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 4/16/04


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Now I find myself in a bit of a spot with Kill Bill: Vol. 2. You know the idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts? Well, that's pretty much the case here, as the entirety of the film Kill Bill will most definitely be greater than the sum of this film and its predecessor. In retrospect, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 got away with murder, even if the objective of the title wasn't fulfilled by the end. That film had the virtue of its balls-to-the-wall energy and style, and the tenacity writer/director Quentin Tarantino showed by simply going balls to the wall. That film stood on its own and was easily one of last year's best and definitely its most entertaining. But Vol. 2 is a different animal entirely. Now in terms of the arc of the full story, that isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it's probably a great thing.  The only problem is we don't have a full story here; we have the conclusion of a full story. In other words, Vol. 2 is a great conclusion to a great (albeit, as of yet, nonexistent except in theory) film, but it is not a great film.

The story picks up where it left off with The Bride (Uma Thurman) continuing her quest to rid the world of her former lover/employer and would-be assassin Bill (David Carradine) and his cohorts. We're reminded of everything that has passed in an on-screen narration by The Bride, as she tells us how she deposed of two of her former co-assassins and is now on her way to finish the job. First on the list is Budd (Michael Madsen), who lives in the Texas desert and works as a bouncer for a strip club. The only problem is that Budd is ready for her, since Bill and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), the next on the hit list, know of The Bride's intentions. Within the central narrative are flashbacks to two significant events. First is the massacre that set everything in motion four years ago, when Bill and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad imposed themselves on The Bride's wedding rehearsal, killing the wedding party and leaving her for dead. The second details The Bride's training in the martial arts under the strict guidance of secretive master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) for all its satirical worth.

If the first half of Kill Bill was a martial arts extravaganza, then the second half is a deliberate modern Western—with samurai swords. There are no hordes of minions for The Bride to dismember, so if Tarantino was showcasing his directing in the first half, he's showcasing his writing this time around. Of course, there's the dialogue, which is full of quotable gems but also targeted at developing its characters. Take the discussion between Budd and his boss about his responsibilities as a bouncer. Or Bill's deconstruction of the Superman myth, observing that the Man of Steel's alter-ego Clark Kent is a commentary on the human race. That piece of popular culture dissertation continues the concept of the film, which—while a piece of pop-culture in itself now—borrows from and cross-references images/sayings/themes/etc. of the pop-culture items that influenced it. What makes the concept work within this context is the way Tarantino manages to take the mish-mash and make it his own. He clearly loves it, and his love is—as I once said—infectious.

The story develops further and deeper this time around, and while the basic points of the story (primarily, see the title) are hit in stride, a few surprises arise. Mainly, it's refreshing to spend so much time early on with Budd; for a while, it almost seems as if Tarantino has pulled an odd shift—a bait and switch of focus. We come to sympathize with this down-on-his-luck ex-assassin, who knows all too well that he deserves death and that it most likely will find him the very near future. That all changes when he buries The Bride alive in an excruciatingly tense scene of pitch blackness and sound effects. Also effective is the final showdown between The Bride and Bill, in which Uma Thurman (taking her already affecting role to a new level) and David Carradine (with a highly effective performance of real and clam menace) exchange words instead of blows or sword swipes. The confrontation plays on their familiarity with each other and comfortable exchanges, giving us an unexpected climax of tautness and enlightenment.

It's unfortunate that we have the split—dividing one film into two—for a reason that seems obvious to anyone (money); even if the powers-that-be insist it's for purposes that are more artistic. Considering the change of tone between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, perhaps they have a point, although I don't believe it for an instant, especially since the decision lessens the ultimate integrity of the film as a whole. We should get our chance to decide for ourselves sooner or later when the entire film is available intact. Until then, I'll hold my breath for Kill Bill.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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