In Kill Bill Vol. 1, Uma Thurman’s Bride hacked her way through half of an elite killing group known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS). Her vengeful mission? To kill Bill (David Carradine), cruel leader of the team and the man who fired a bullet into her brain four years prior. “Kill Bill Vol. 2” chronicles The Bride’s continued blood spattered climb up DiVAS’ criminal hierarchy, working towards its top man. Once a member of Bill’s elite assassin team herself, she knows that other ex-colleagues must also be dispensed of, like Michael Madsen’s bloated Budd (AKA Sidewinder) and Daryl Hannah’s lanky lady pirate Elle Driver (AKA California Mountain Snake).
The second “Kill Bill” installment revisits The Bride’s fevered quest, and also resolves the teasing plot points left dangling from part one. For instance, what has become of The Bride’s daughter? What does Bill look like? And why exactly did he shoot The Bride and leave her for dead during a wedding rehearsal in El Paso, Texas so many years ago?
“Kill Bill Vol. 2” immediately answers the last question in its opening black and white scenes, showing The Bride preparing her wedding to an underachieving, Texas record store proprietor. Bill crashes the chapel rehearsal, revealing himself as a suave, flute-playing gent with cowboy boots and a loaded revolver. Resentful of his ex-lover’s plans for getting hitched to another man, the boss’ cruel streak goes into overdrive as he and other DiVA crewmembers massacre the rehearsal congregation.
After this lengthy prologue, the film launches us forward in time, picking up after The Bride’s rude awakening from a four-year coma and her brutal extermination of DiVA assassins O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), as depicted in Vol. 1. By the time her saga is over, Thurman’s heroine will endure a shotgun’s blast of rock salt, a live burial, and the most knockdown, drag-out womano-a-womano catfight ever filmed. Meanwhile, viewers will revisit her early training at the hands of Chinese kung fu master Pei Mei (Gordon Liu), where she is taught the Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Thurman conveys each emotion on this rollercoaster journey with equally convincing effect, whether it be the claustrophobic horror of being buried six feet under in a pine-box coffin, or the surprised joy of discovering a long-lost love.
Meanwhile, “Kill Bill Vol. 2” is full of magnetic villains, complex cartoons who wax philosophical one minute, then gouge out the eyes of their opponents the next. This intelligent volatility generates a sustained suspense throughout the movie. Even during its most delicate or seemingly benign moments, the threat of danger hums like an electrical current throughout “Kill Bill.” Take Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver, who almost makes one forget Charlize Theron’s Oscar-snagging turn as Eileen Wuornos in Monster. Director Quentin Tarantino completely extracts the tentative sweetness that Hannah brought to “Roxanne” and “Splash,” replacing it with the nasty, hardened heart of a traitor willing to poison her mentor, or sick a snake on a one-time squeeze. All golden hair, rock-star smoker’s lips, and black eye patch, Hannah’s statuesque witch permanently burns her scowl into viewers’ brains.
Madsen is equally good as Budd, the trailer-inhabiting bouncer employed at a Barstow, California strip club so empty and remote that there’s no one around to bounce. Wasting away in a desert hovel where he drinks margaritas from glass canning jars, Budd still has the attuned, hyper-vigilant senses of a wary wolf. This bloated brother of Bill – long since estranged from the sibling over a woman – can sniff out a silent stalker and pelt her with a blast of firepower to the chest. Shades of Madsen’s sinister Reservoir Dog Mr. Blonde, Budd is a playful torture artist. “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey,” he croons, rousing an enemy from sleep only to bury her alive moments later. Using silent, subtle tongue movements and squints, Madsen cues us into the fact that Budd’s pickled synapses are still firing, without giving away exactly which sinister thoughts are twisting in his brain. Like all of Tarantino’s best villains, Budd’s unpredictable, sickly-sweet creepiness is both funny and terrifying.
The malevolent spirit of Carradine’s Bill towered over Kill Bill Vol. 1, even though his face was never shown. A hand caressing a sword case, and his eloquent, menacing voice were enough to paint him larger-than-life. This time around, Carradine and Tarantino throw viewers a curve ball and break the rules, showing the ruthless man’s redeemable human side while reminding us of his violent capabilities. In one amazing scene, Carradine makes sandwich assembly seem both artful and intimidating, dipping his knife into mustard then slicing off bread crusts the way he might carve up a victim, waxing philosophical about life and death all the while. Bill emerges as the film’s most complex character, a man who regrets his past, even as he realistically faces up to it. “I over-reacted,” Bill tells The Bride, explaining why he shot her in the head. “There are consequences to breaking the heart of a murderous bastard.” All the while, his self-defense skills equal those of Carradine’s seventies television hero Caine, from “Kung Fu.”
Cinemaphiles will have a field day dissecting which movies Tarantino has lifted from, referenced, and paid homage to in “Kill Bill Vol 2.” Ever since film critics cried foul over his alleged cribbing of the “Reservoir Dogs” heist plot from Ringo Lam’s obscure Chinese actioner “City on Fire,” viewers have delighted in determining the inspirations for the director’s subsequent films, scenes, and characters. An obvious influence on “Kill Bill” is Japanese shockmeister Takashi Miike. No only did “Vol. 1”’s bodyguard Go Go resemble a similar schoolgirl-assassin from Miike’s “Fudoh – The Next Generation,” but a scene from the second “Bill” outing, filmed from inside a toilet bowl, has much in common with a potty shot from “City of Lost Souls.” (Fortunately, Tarantino spares us the floating turds that framed Miike’s version.)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 was a pure action movie, in love with collisions of violent movement. “Vol. 2” relaxes the pace, allowing for extended monologues. Those who lamented the first film’s lack of wicked word exchanges should delight in Carradine’s final soliloquy, which touches on everything from the life and death struggle of a goldfish to the mythology of Superman.
From the adrenaline-spewing swordplay of his movie’s first half, Tarantino ultimately spins a tale of love, reflection, and parenthood. The director is everything that Hollywood cinema needs right now, able to find art in seemingly antiquated genres and toss out fresh images the way Spiderman shoots webs. “Kill Bill” finds Tarantino at the top of his rebel-rousing game, with both guns blazing and taking no prisoners.
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