I went on what the movie advertisements referred to as a roaring rampage of revenge.
With that line begins the much anticipated Volume 2 of the highly successful "Kill Bill" blockbuster. It opens with a long black-and-white shot of Uma Thurman's The Bride at the wheel of a convertible explaining what she has done up to this point and where she will ultimately wind up. Yes, in case you were wondering, she still holds a nasty grudge against Bill (David Carradine).
And when she uses the 'movie advertisements' to describe her bloody rampage of revenge that scratched off two of the five assassins on her "Death List": O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Lui) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), I had a feeling I would be slightly underwhlemed by the finale.
I was right. When Quentin Tarantino decided to have The Bride break the fourth wall in the opening shot, I was slightly removed from the story and never recovered. Whereas I was completely encompassed in "Volume 1" (a perfect 'A'), I felt a little distance the second time. We're watching the same movie here; the second half but after paying for a second ticket. I was looking for something to raise the ante but all of the best stuff happens before Chapter Six.
To be sure, I liked the film and a B+ is where I stand. But let's look at the opening paragraph of my colleague Avril Carruther's review of the first volume:
"Kill Bill is a film-loversí film Ė particularly if you love old spaghetti westerns, kung fu movies, samurai movies and Japanese anime, each done exceptionally well. Itís a film which could not exist outside the world of pop cinema. Itís a film doing homage to and celebrating great action film genres with characters that are eternal icons immortalised on the screen."
Part two lacks in every department, with the exception of the kung fu element that's embodied by the legendary Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), Bill's master. In a flashback we see Bill delivering The Bride to him for training in what becomes the best scene of the movie. "When will my training be complete?" she asks before Bill drives off in his dusty pickup truck. "When he says it's over. It's won't be easy but you'll get used to it. Maybe in a year or so."
Pai Mei lives on an isolated hilltop which makes the perfect training grounds for new warriors; complete with a large stone-staircase waiting to be treaded by an agonizing student carrying large buckets of water. Pai Mei isn't as nice of a fellow as Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) who handcrafted "God-cutting" swords for Bill's assassins in the previous volume. Pai Mei, whom hates women, whites and Americans, is an uncompromising instructor as we soon learn how far he goes to train/torture his students, sometimes with permanent consequences.
When we get caught up to the present day after many flashbacks, The Bride visits the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Both Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Budd (Michael Madsen) are tougher opponents than O-Ren (including the Crazy 88) and Vernita Green. Elle is also a student of Pai Mei and Budd owns a shotgun, is a bouncer at a strip club and lives in a mobile home. 'Nuff said.
The result of The Bride's showdown with Budd puts her in a situation that would have ultimately been the end of her had she not learned the necessary lifesaving skills from Pai Mei. Tarantino uses a 4x3 screen ratio to shrink the image and enhance the urgency of The Bride's sticky situation which is something I'd rather you see for yourself than read in this review. It's a classic moment and only the beginning of many screams what The Bride will have to go through to get her revenge.
The fight with Elle Driver is a fast paced match to determine who's the better Pai Mei student. The choreography is topnotch and you can expect a lot of stuff to break as it takes place in Budd's trailer, about the size of Vernita Green's living room where the first close range fight went down. The duel ends with a satisfying move that will have you both laughing and squirming at the same time; the only over-the-top type of scene so abundant in the first movie.
A similar trait the characters possess is seen clearly after witnessing the fights in the two films, and what they all have in common is the respect they have for each other. Despite everyone's desire to kill and backstab, there is a certain level of civility that's rather amusing if not humble. You'll recall Elle allowing The Bride to survive in the first film because she was in a defenseless coma, and in this film we see the curiosity extended through Bill and Budd. Budd gives The Bride a choice between two vital tools to help her in her fight and Bill remains mostly passive in the final duel in order to give her a few moments with someone very important.
Thankfully, the humor is still intact and we get to laugh as much as we did in the first movie primarily due to the heavy amount of dialogue Tarantino lays on us. While I found much of it to be unnecessary and uninspiring; the dead goldfish speech and why Superman is the best superhero (which he is) didn't resonate too well, I particularly enjoyed the exchange between Elle and Budd in which she reads to him what she learned off the Internet about the black mamba snake. Such exchanges between two oddball characters is something you can always expect from Tarantino and he never fails.
The dialogue is thickest in the final scene at Bill's place. The Bride and Bill sit for a talk as if two lifelong friends are reminiscing the good days. I began to wonder why Bill started this whole conflict in the first place. What made him decide to bring his Vipers to the Two Pines Wedding Chappell and annihilate The Bride's family? Those questions are indirectly answered in the final exchanges between Bill and The Bride just before we reach the conclusion. To say it ends with a bang is not exaggerating.
Many moviegoers will argue that both volumes make up one film. Those people have a point but I still view them as separate movies. The first "Kill Bill" was almost revolutionary in its wildness whereas the second volume is the unfinished business but without the creative anime and senseless massacres that made the first film so fun. "Kill Bill 2" is still an extraordinary product and a satisfying conclusion to the "Kill Bill" saga. That is, if it's really over.
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