Kill Bill Vol. 2

4 stars


12th September 2004

Not many people in Hollywood would have the audacity to split their latest movie into two parts, but if there's one person we could forgive, it's fanboy favourite Quentin Tarantino. Last September saw the arrival of the first instalment, kicking, screaming and wielding deadly Hattori Hanzo steel. Now Volume Two has arrived, but is it a case of all mouth and no trousers?

We're away before we've even begun - with two names crossed off her death list, Uma Thurman's Bride only has three former colleagues to despatch of, namely Michael Madsen's trailer trash redneck Budd, Daryl Hannah's deviously dangerous Elle Driver, and the wonderfully charismatic David Carradine's ringleader, the titular Bill. This being a QT movie, the narrative is as twisted as expected, beginning with the wedding day massacre of The Bride, her groom and the entire wedding party by Bill's Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (courtesy of an exquisite dolly shot). Back to the present day, and with Vernita Green and O-Ren Ishii already languishing in early graves, our heroine is out for more bloody satisfaction.

Having finally swallowed Kill Bill as a whole, it's easy to see that the decision to make two movies instead of one was not an easy one to make. While Volume One ended on a perfect cliff-hanger, following a blood-soaked swordfight of epic proportions, Volume Two takes a fair while to get into gear thanks to some lengthy back story and character development (something that was sorely missed from its predecessor). It'd be unfair to suggest that Tarantino had shot his bolt in the first instalment, but where One is overflowing with superbly choreographed action, Two is seemingly happy to wallow in lengthy dialogue, with only the occasional ass-kicking to lighten up proceedings. Admittedly there's story to be told, but in a perfect world, both volumes would have benefited from a little directorial balance to even out the creases - it still makes for an uneasy transition into two movies rather than one.

Given that you can accept the fact that you've paid for two cinema tickets, Kill Bill Volume Two is still a fantastic showcase for the most outlandishly visual director working out of Hollywood today. When it comes to snappy dialogue between interesting characters, Tarantino was always the best. With a central character as powerful and sensual as Thurman's Bride, good dialogue must have come easy - her interchanges with Bill provide the movie with a real backbone and there's a real tenderness shared between the two of them. Underneath the glossy veneer, Kill Bill is basically a story about a man who loved a woman, and what happened when she spurned him for another. In the sparse scenes of action that are to be found in Volume Two, particularly the Jackass-inspired trailer fight with Elle Driver, no punches are pulled and the result is a truly nasty, filthy, damn dirty encounter. If this kind of girl-on-girl violence is what pushes Quentin's cinematic buttons, he must have had a raging hard-on when watching the dailies.

Unfortunately, there's a lofty sense of anticlimax in the final encounter with Uma's former boss. While we've had to wait not one, but two movies for the couple to finally meet, the result is a drawn-out affair which is too lengthy by half - while you're itching for the two main characters to get to the action, Thurman and Carradine never quite seem to get done with the foreplay, and as usual, it's over too quickly, isn't nearly as satisfying as you'd hoped and there's lots of crying. That's not to say that the two actors don't completely hit the ball out of the park - they do, with aplomb - but there's a serious lack of self-control on display from our faithful screenwriter. One scene in particular, in which Bill laments on his love of comic books, is flagrantly unnecessary, and makes you long for a toned-up, buffed, super-slim three hour version of both movies as one, with the fatty lumps removed.

For every step Volume Two takes in the wrong direction, it takes giant leaps in the right one. Samuel L. Jackson's cameo as the Organ Player, Gordon Liu's hilariously cruel tutor Pai Mei, Madsen's deliriously trashy turn as Bill's wastrel brother Budd - you're never usually five minutes away from a 24-carat gold performance. And while Nicole Kidman or someone of equal stature will no doubt find themselves picking up a golden statuette at next year's Academy Award, Uma Thurman's Bride is perhaps the most fully-formed, believable and just plain shaggable heroine you'll see on celluloid in your lifetime. The girl gives her all in every frame and even when sharing screen time with the enigmatic Carradine, she makes each and every scene her own.

What we're left with here is two movies, which, on their own merits are effortlessly enjoyable, never quite gel into the one cinematic experience. You've got career best performances, a director who's continuing to break new ground and enough exquisitely executed set pieces to spread over half a dozen movies, but ultimately, you can never quite shake the feeling that you've been had.

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