Killing me slowly
It’s nice to look at, but Bill II talks too much
On the eve of her wedding and nine months pregnant, The Bride (Uma Thurman) and her wedding party are ambushed by her former associates, the eponymous Bill (David Carradine) and his team of bad-assed international assassins. A jealous and possessive type, he’s not happy that the former assassin has left his fold. Unfortunately for The Viper Squad, the hit has only left The Bride in a coma. Four years later she wakes, sans baby and hell-bent for vengeance against all those who have caused her loss.
As he did with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino employs his fondness for a scattershot approach to narrative structure, ducking back and forth within the timeframe to unveil the course of events. With that in mind, Kill Bill, Vol. 2 opens before the first entry left off. Two of the party-crashers have been eliminated, and three remain: Bill, his brother Budd (Michael Madsen) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah).
Now, if you’re walking into this expecting a continuation of the wall-to-wall mayhem of the first volume, you’re going to spend a lot of time contemplating your popcorn. Whereas in Vol. 1 The Bride spent copious amounts of time dismembering the legions of bad guys who came between her and her intended targets, here she exercises some discipline and keeps the body count down to a mere few. Which means talking, a whole lot of talking.
Curious about questions left unanswered in the first film? Here, Tarantino answers them at length, then reiterates. In past films, he has sometimes played dangerously close to self-parody when it comes to writing clever dialogue, but here Tarantino not only crosses the line, but also uses it for a starting mark—and sprints for all it’s worth.
As the film starts with the lead-up to the wedding massacre scene and should be drawing the viewer in, the interaction is mostly irrelevant to the plot as a whole, aside from seeming to serve as an opportunity to give cameo roles to Samuel L. Jackson and Bo Svenson. And toward the end, when Tarantino should be wrapping up the proceedings, he has Carradine pause to deliver a monologue on superheroes-as-metaphor that serves no real function save to grind the momentum of the film to a halt. People talk at length but never seem to offer up any information.
Back stories are offered where none are needed and none offered when they are. Tarantino spends an inordinate amount of time unreeling a scene in which Budd is canned from his dead-end job at a titty bar but never bothers to explain the circumstances of his downward spiral from international hit manabout-town to trailer trash squalor. A Mexican pimp is introduced for an extended exchange, serving only as a cameo for Tarantino favorite Michael Parks. Sophie Fatale, a prominent character of the first volume, is never re-introduced here, despite her being a factor in the wedding massacre.
Even so, when Vol. 2 picks up the pace, it delivers with vignettes that live up to the promises implied by Vol. 1. The showdown between The Bride and the one-eyed assassin Elle is a masterpiece of an action-style comedy of errors, and an extended burial sequence nearly matches the hypodermic moment of Pulp Fiction in excruciating suspense. Also, this time around Tarantino keeps the in-jokes to a minimum, although occasionally he indulges (keep an eye out for a classic reference to Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci).
In counterpoint to the at times incessant nattering of the characters, Robert Richardson’s mànage à genres cinematography at least offers up something to look at along the way. Almost a character itself, the photography of the film is captivating, especially the black-and-white sequence of the aborted wedding scene, which features the added touch of making The (pregnant) Bride literally glow, and the chop-socky grindhouse look of the Pai Mei sequence is retro perfection.
While never boring and for the most part compelling entertainment, Kill Bill would have worked better as a whole if Tarantino had exercised some discipline and edited the two volumes down to one viable epic, along the lines of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western opus Once Upon a Time in the West, obviously the most overt influence on the auteur this time around.