Against all expectations, Quentin Tarantino’s second helping of exploitation revenge homage does feel like a different film to its blistering predecessor. It’s slower, longer, less immediate – and considerably less violent – but proves a fitting end to the tale.
We pick up the story as The Bride (Uma Thurman) moves onto the remaining two members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad – Budd/Sidewinder (Michael Madsen) and Elle Driver/California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah) – and their boss and her former lover, Bill (David Carradine). Budd, who we learn is Bill’s estranged brother, is now living in the desert and working as a strip club doorman. Alone amongst his ex-colleagues, he expresses guilt about the way they massacred The Bride’s wedding party and put her in a four-year coma; as he tells Bill: "We deserve to die." Nevertheless, he wins their first showdown, and The Bride ends up buried alive in the Texan desert.
Kill Bill: Volume 2 is all about confounding expectation, both in content and characterisation. The Bride (whose real name is revealed to be Beatrix Kiddo) has two big confrontations with Bill, in flashback at the beginning and, of course, at the film’s climax. Neither are exactly what we anticipate – we know that Bill is a ruthless killer, but the sheer charisma that David Carradine brings to the role surprises. Undeniably, Bill deserves to die – but he’s so damn charming that you kind of don’t want him to. The same can’t be said of Elle Driver – easily the nastiest of the gang, Daryl Hannah relishes her venomous part, while Michael Madsen’s Budd is paunchy, balding and world-weary, a complete flip-side to his Reservoir Dogs character.
However, the biggest surprise of all is in the tone. Gone is Volume 1’s extreme comic book rush, the dazzlingly colourful cinematography and spectacular cartoonish violence; there’s also nothing here as audacious as the O-Ren Ishii anime sequence. Advance word suggested that whereas the first part was heavily influenced by Japanese swordplay movies, this second film would takes its debt from kung fu flicks. There is an hilarious, spoofy flashback sequence in which we see Beatrix receive her training from grouchy beard-stroking martial arts mentor Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, making a second appearance in the epic), but largely this is Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western, from Robert Rodriguez's music and muted photography to the languid pace and desert setting of the first half. The violence is less frequent but grittier – there’s nothing on the scale of the House of Blue Leaves massacre, and the fights all take place on an intimate scale with some squirm-inducing nastiness (including the best bit of eyeball violation since the heady days of Lucio Fulci).
The film is entirely engrossing but not without flaws. Tarantino may have initially simply chopped a three hour film in half, but with an extra couple of months to play with he’s clearly gone back an reinserted a load of material. Volume 2 runs well over the two-hour mark now, and some of the first hour could’ve been cut back... we know his characters like to talk, but here the dialogue sometimes seems a little superfluous. And I’m not sure Tarantino’s attempt to give his story a human dimension sits that comfortably with the hyper-realistic world it’s set in. As mentioned at the end of Volume 1, Beatrix’s daughter is still alive, and much of the last section revolves around her discovery of this. The staging of Beatrix and Bill’s final confrontation is beautifully acted by Thurman and Carradine, but never quite hits the emotional height that Tarantino was aiming for.
In the end, it is somewhat ironic that Tarantino takes three-and-a-half-hours to tell a simple story of revenge that most of his idols would have had sewn up in 90 minutes. But there's no denying his utter devotion to the genre(s) – so much so that he can hardly bear to say goodbye to his creations; as cinematic love letters go, Kill Bill has few peers. Watch for cameos from cult movie heroes Bo Svenson, Sid Haig and the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson.
American writer/director and one of the most iconic filmmakers of the 1990s. The former video store clerk made his debut in 1992 with the dazzling crime thriller Reservoir Dogs, which mixed razor sharp dialogue, powerhouse acting and brutal violence in controversial style. Sprawling black comedy thriller Pulp Fiction was one of 1994's biggest hits and resurrected John Travolta's career, much as 1997's Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown did for Pam Grier.