Action/Adventure / Films / Tarantino

Kill Bill: Volume 2

When Volume 2 was released back in 2004, there was a mixed response from audiences. Whilst Volume 1 had been criticised for being all action with no substance, Volume 2 was criticised for being overly talky, with very little in the way of fight scenes. There is nothing in Volume 2 on the scale and style of the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves, for example, and some audience members felt they had been miss-sold a sequel based on a false build-up. But Volume 2, whilst yes, dramatically, a very different beast than Volume 1, is a great movie, and potentially, the stronger half of Tarantino’s assassin opus. The mistake was to think that Tarantino had used the cinematic split to make people pay to see the same movie twice. And whilst many young teenage audience members were annoyed by the switch of gears, what you’re left with is really one whole movie which splits into two distinct sections; Volume 1 is the geeky, samurai action movie filled with references to past grindhouse classics. Volume 2 is the heart, the characters, and really, where Kill Bill steps up and becomes it’s own product.kill bill volume 2The way the editing works across the split is that Volume 1 gets all the Japanese kung-fu action segments of the narrative, whilst Volume 2 gets all the plot, characters, and world-details. Volume 2, in keeping with past Tarantino movies, is almost entirely driven by its dialogue; this is a slower, conversation-heavy movie, in which sword-fights are swapped for lengthy mythology-building monologues. Compare the openings of each film to understand the differences; Volume 1 begins with a bang and a high energy fight sequence between The Bride (Uma Thurman) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) which throws the audience into the action. Volume 2 pulls back to the beginning of the whole bloody affair, to The Bride’s wedding massacre, which importantly occurs off-screen just as Tarantino pulls away. Shot in sumptuous and highly-cinematic black and white, the opening of Volume 2 introduces Bill (David Carradine) and goes some way towards clarifying the relationship between him and our heroine. At this point, Tarantino leaves much unsaid, building tension from the audience’s own knowledge of what’s coming next, with the dialogue is broken down into ominous hints. It’s a powerful sequence, one which packs a far greater emotional punch than the high-octane opening of Volume 1, and one which is technically very accomplished – though this time in terms of character, not choreography. kill bill volume 2Volume 2 works by filling in the ‘why?’ When taken as it’s own movie, Volume 1 doesn’t explain much of anything – we know nothing of the Bride’s backstory – which is filled in here with a wonderfully kung-fu throwback with stock character Pai Mei (Gordon Liu in his second role in the saga), illustrating The Bride’s green roots and growth into the Deadliest Woman in the World. We see the Bride’s relationship with Bill, we learn why Bill did what he did, and we’re given a far greater insight into how this world works. Whilst Volume 1 was a post-modern sampling of pop-culture, Volume 2 provides a backdrop for that, and as such, feels like its own complete product; this is where Kill Bill goes from nostalgic throwback to Tarantino’s new, epic saga. Without Volume 2, we’d be left with a very technically accomplished and fun empty shell; Volume 1 was pieces of the past, a smattering of Lady Snowblood and other grindhouse greats, but Volume 2 is the movie which lets Kill Bill stand up as something iconic, something which can rival those movies of the past; essentially, Volume 2 gives Kill Bill its own narrative and its own identity. vol25In typical Tarantino fashion, the dialogue is fantastic – much more in line with his previous features than with Volume 1. Dialogue in Volume 1 is very curt and to-the-point; in Volume 2, dialogue is long, complex, clever and filled with pop-culture references. There are loads of little fantastic nods – Bill’s Superman speech is wonderful, and Elle’s internet research into the black mamba (snake-wise, not the code-named character) is brilliant too. There’s a great deal of wit and humour in all of the dialogue and it’s very quotable. However, the dialogue isn’t quite natural; it’s self aware and silly at times, and very grandiose – these characters don’t talk like real people; all conversation essentially serves to build up the mythology. The Bride’s opening speech to the camera is a great example of this. As with Volume 1, Volume 2 doesn’t exist in the real world, but an exaggerated and cinematic version of it, where characters can live for thousands of years, where gunshots don’t wake children sleeping in the next room, and crafty hand-action can stop a human heart. The dialogue reinforces this, and with Volume 1, Tarantino achieves a great deal of world-building, which in turn, makes Volume 1 stronger on a second watch. The tone is pure geek, more in line with Star Wars, and like Lucas’s classic, its impressive how fully realised Tarantino becomes within such a short space of time. It’s a world you’re almost sad to leave when Volume 2 reaches its bloody conclusion.vol22As with Volume 1, Volume 2 mirrors the out-of-order structure and plays with the audience; we’re told key events have occurred already, yet still feel tension as we watch them play out. The difference really is tone – the more talky, conversation-heavy nature aside, Volume 2 takes inspiration more wholly from the spaghetti western. Volume 1 certainly had its spaghetti western tropes, but the Japanese setting and sword-play spun the film into samurai and kung-fu  genres, and on the whole, there’s a far greater Bruce Lee vibe with the first movie. Volume 2 goes from the East to the West and takes a great deal more influence from Sergio Leone, Tarantino’s favourite director. So we get a lot of sunny long shots of beautiful American deserts, coupled with rousing Morricone scores (much of which taken directly from the Dollars Trilogy) with lots of tight close-ups, as well as long stretches of quiet tension punctuated by bursts of extreme, graphic and crucially, dirty violence. The climax of the fight between The Bride and Elle Driver, all stand-offs, rising suspense and increasingly tight close-ups, is Tarantino’s most direct Leone lift and a brilliant throwback sequence. Tarantino would later top this homage with the opening of Inglourious Basterds, which is basically a Leone movie distilled into a French setting. The music on the whole, which is amazing and just as strong as the first movie, has a heavy Morricone vibe, and his semi-Bernard Herrman title score is very rousing and powerful. The great thing about Volume 2 is that it introduces a new audience to the likes of Leone – with many younger fans noticing the references and going out to watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly afterwards, which is probably exactly what Tarantino would have wanted. vol29Though the movie is talky, it doesn’t let up on the brilliant set-pieces, and has one real killer fight sequence. The battle between Elle Driver and The Bride is the strongest in the series – a much dirtier and grimier affair than the O-Ren Ishii showdown in Volume 1; this is a fight without honour and heavy on the spaghetti western vibe, and almost perfectly choreographed within a very confined location. There are more surprises and twists in this movie, and a unsettling and claustrophobic sequence in which The Bride is buried alive. Tarantino keeps things tight by switching to the traditional 4×3 screen ratio, and in a five minute section, puts together something much more horrific and nightmarish than the movie Buried, which basically turned the same concept into an entire movie. The Pai Mei scenes are great fun too, though its fitting that the movie calms down dramatically as The Bride closes in on Bill. Tarantino subverts expectations; instead of trying to rival the epic, third-of-the-movie-long climax of Volume 1, he crafts something much smaller, tighter, and ultimately, much more satisfying. vol28The cast are on top form. Whilst everyone was great in Volume 1, Tarantino gives the cast of Volume 2 much more to work with. Michael Madsen’s Budd is a sad, sexist and washed-up affair, and he plays the role with both a wise, we-deserve-what-we-get attitude, but also a sadistic, cruel relish; a man stripped of power given a brief glimpse into the monster he once was. Daryl Hannah is wonderful as Elle Driver; vicious and snake-like, she gives a deliriously wicked performance, even more impressive when you see interviews with Hannah in real life – she’s quiet and mousy, a stark contrast to the wild monster she portrays here. David Carradine seems to have stepped right out of his Kung Fu past and gives a charismatic, charming and crucially, dangerous performance. He’s smooth and funny, sexy for an older man, but with an air of unrestrained malice and cruelty; you get the impression that he could kill someone by blinking; Bill should never be under estimated. He’s a fantastic and developed villain too; we learn what makes him tick, and Bill is easily Carradine’s most iconic role; it’s a shame Carradine died not long after Kill Bill as it would have been interesting to see how he continued his revival. His performance justifies the split, as we’re saved Bill until the end of the second movie. His presence haunts both films.vol30But this is Uma Thurman’s flick. Thurman is a strange actress, in that her performances can range from fairly weak to utterly stunning; arguably, she’s an actress who needs a good director, and has her perfect match with Tarantino. The Bride, or Beatrix Kiddo, is a fantastic character, and Thurman builds on the tough, Deadliest Woman in the World approach she built up in the first movie. Here, we see how The Bride came to be, and understand what drives her to do what she does. Thurman covers just about every emotion an actress can and it’s a real shame she was never nominated for an Oscar for this; she’s naive and innocent in the early stages, cool and in control at others, terrified at times, but with a steely resolve. She’s one of the strongest and most successful female characters ever put on screen and through her, Kill Bill takes on an interesting feminist slant. It’s hard to think of many other action flicks held together by a such a strong female character – one who controls her own life, can hold her in own a fight and then some, and speak several different languages on top too. Whilst it would be pushing to say Kill Bill is some sort of feminist masterpiece, it is a movie held up by strong women, who certainly give more than the men they’re up against, and by the climax of the movie, an interesting theme of motherhood appears; the film becoming a reflection on the love a mother has for her children. Very few other action movies take this approach and its very approaching, The Bride standing with Buffy Summers as one of the great female action heroines of recent times. vol31Tarantino did, over the years, talk about follow-up features to Kill Bill. For awhile, there were two planned prequels, animated in the style of Volume 1‘s O-Ren Ishii section, and dealing with the history of The Bride, Bill, and the Deadly Vipers. With Carradine’s untimely death, this project is likely to never materialise now, which is a shame, as it would have been interesting to see more of this world. There was also serious talk of a Volume 3, featuring Vernita Green’s daughter from the opening of Volume 1, hunting down The Bride with the help of Sofie Fatale and a blind Elle Driver – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to Volume 1‘s A Fistful of Dollars and Volume 2‘s For a Few Dollars More. This project, recently canned by Tarantino, would have been an interesting, if perhaps unnecessary, addition to the world. More interesting though, was The Whole Bloody Affair. This was to be Volume 1 and Volume 2 edited together into one movie, which would have been fantastic for fans. Kill Bill essentially splits into three sections – the Japanese samurai movie of Volume 1, the spaghetti western of 2‘s first half, and the talky showdown with Bill at the close, and it would have been fascinating to see how Tarantino would have crafted these into one product. Though with the loss of his brilliant editor Sally Menke, it’s probably wise if this is left to the side for now, as The Whole Bloody Affair would need to be a masterpiece of clever editing to work. vol27Though both halves are different, they combine into one fantastic and very accomplished movie. Taken as a whole – the stylish and technically perfect Volume 1, and the character driven spaghetti western of Volume 2, Kill Bill becomes a wonderful and immersive final product, and easily, one of the strongest and most fun movies of 200os. A brilliant pop-culture classic and must for all movie fans.

9/10

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6 thoughts on “Kill Bill: Volume 2

  1. Pingback: Kill Bill: Volume 1 | Some Films and Stuff

  2. The Bride is such a great iconic movie character. I think I prefer Volume 1 but it’s great that Volume 2 has such a different feel to its predocessor. Great review on both Volumes.

    • Thanks Lauren, yeah she’s a great character and I love both these movies – I lean towards 2 being the better of the two, as I think there’s more to it, but then 1 blows me away everytime I see it. I like to think of them as one whole product 🙂

  3. Pingback: Studios: Stop Splitting Movies in Half | Some Films and Stuff

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