Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
In my October 2003 review of "Kill Bill: Volume One," I praised the
film as an invigoratingly original, exciting, beautiful, poetic ode
to the martial-arts/spaghetti western genres, while at the same time
criticized it for being only half of a movie. Unlike any part of "The
Lord of the Rings" trilogy, for example, which all had definitive
beginnings and ends as they fit within a greater tapestry, "Kill Bill"
was written and filmed as a single epic. And what an epic it would
have been. Unfortunately, mistrusting that audiences would not be
able to sit through a 3 1/2-hour opus, Miramax (and, allegedly, Tarantino)
made the dismal decision to chop the story right down the middle and
release it as two separate features. A greedy proposition? Condescending
of audiences, particularly Quentin Tarantino fans? A big mistake that
makes both halves less satisfying than they would have been as one
entity? Yes, yes, and yes.
Imagining "Kill Bill: Volume One" and "Kill Bill: Volume Two" as a
single, flowing narrative, the result would likely be one of astounding
ambition, sweeping scope, and sharp emotional depth—an undoubted modern
masterpiece. Even on its own, "Volume One" nearly achieved that feat,
a motion picture that might have lacked a conclusion but could, more
or less, be viewed as merely the setup for an already-in-the-can sequel.
In its every technical credit, its every incendiary music cue, its
every line of dialogue, its every elaborately violent action setpiece,
and its every performance, "Volume One" was alive and kicking in a
way very few films are nowadays. Woefully, "Volume Two" just doesn't
hold the same impact on its own and, as a film that starts in midstream,
it is even less satisfying as an individual film than "Volume One" was.
In pacing and tone, "Kill Bill: Volume Two" differs greatly from its
predecessor. "Volume One" was like a delicious appetizer that came
fast and furiously, never stopping to catch its breath and downright
intoxicating in its joy, energy, and inspiration. The film mixed live-action,
black-and-white, split-screen effects, an anime sequence, geysers
of blood, an applause-worthy single-shot sequence, swooping cinematography,
cool musical montages, and colorful, stylized art direction, all in
the name of capturing a look and feel to call its own. In comparison,
"Volume Two" is slow-paced, dialogue-heavy, filled with exposition,
and, save for a showstopping fight to the death in a motor home, virtually
actionless. And while there are a few stylistic choices that carry
over from film to film—and a new effective one of its own as a scene
takes place in complete darkness—the art direction and cinematograp
hy are more commonplace, the music score and song choices are less
notable, and there are several dry, drug-out patches.
When "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) was last seen in "Volume One," she
had successfully slaughtered two of her enemies—O-Ren Ishii/"Cottonmouth"
(Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green/"Copperhead" (Vivica A. Fox)—and had
three more to go. An ex-assassin who was brutally shot and left for
dead during her wedding rehearsal, "The Bride" had awoken from her
coma four-and-a-half years later, vowing to seek revenge on her old
Assassination Squad. Next on her list: Budd/"Sidewinder" (Michael
Madsen), Elle Driver/"California Mountain Snake" (Daryl Hannah), and
leader of the pack, Bill (David Carradine), whom "The Bride" once
was in love with. Meanwhile, "The Bride" moves closer and closer to
the daughter she has no idea survived.
Whereas there wasn't a wasted moment in all 108 minutes of "Volume
One," the 130-minute "Kill Bill: Volume Two" could have been cut by
at least thirty minutes without any footage being missed. Some scenes,
such as one set at the nightclub Budd works at and another in which
"The Bride" meets with an acquaintance of Bill's to find out his whereabouts,
are extraneous bits of egocentrism on Tarantino's part. They are there
to show off his dialogue, while glaringly calling attention to themselves
because they do not add to the larger story. For a peculiarly long
period of time, "The Bride," whose story we are supposed to be following,
is nowhere to be found as the film goes off on unfocused tangents.
Odd, too, that Tarantino dedicated nearly ten minutes of screen time
to O-Ren Ishii's fascinating backstory in "Volume One," yet fails
to endow the rest of "The Bride"'s targets the same depth and care.
When Budd and Elle are inevitably killed, it is little more than a
means to her goal, and has none of the weight afforded Ishii's death.
Also missing in action is any development concerning the relationship
dynamic of the Assassination Squad pre-church massacre. Even the list
"The Bride" made in "Volume One" as she marked off her successful
hits is nowhere to be found. Instead of satiating his own love affair
with his words in overlong subplots, Quentin Tarantino would have
been wise to fill in the obvious plot gaps and questions that viewers
might naturally want to see answered.
All of that said, "Kill Bill: Volume Two" does have its high points.
The brutal training "The Bride" receives from Pai Mai (Gordon Liu)
is brought to vibrant, funny fruition in a segment that is just right
in its length. All of the scenes with the venomous Elle Driver are
superb, including the acidly funny confrontation she shares with Budd
and followed by the explosive, unrelenting catfight between she and
"The Bride" in Budd's motor home. Daryl Hannah (2003's "Casa de los
Babys") has never been better, or more wickedly hateful, as she is
in the vivid, eyepatch-wearing role of Elle Driver. Also affecting
are some surprisingly tender moments between "The Bride" and Bill,
who share something of a tragic love story, and a quietly lovely late
scene in which "The Bride" puts her just-reunited daughter to bed for the first time.
Uma Thurman (2003's "Paycheck") is as much of a standout here as she
was in "Volume One." It is Thurman who carries the entire film on
her back, and she is perfect in the kind of strong-willed, tough yet
vulnerable role she was seemingly born to play. Meanwhile, as the
unforgettable title character, underrated veteran actor David Carradine
deserves Oscar consideration for what is, indeed, a career-revitalizing role.
"Kill Bill: Volume Two" is a fine film in many respects, assured and
richly textured and faultlessly shot as a master of writer-director
Quentin Tarantino's caliber could only achieve. On its own, however,
it is regrettably disappointing, a missed opportunity and a marginally
unfocused feature. So congratulations, Quentin Tarantino and Miramax.
With "Kill Bill," you single-handedly turned a brilliant motion picture
into two lesser one's. Worst of all, such a calamitous downfall could
have been avoided with more faith in viewers and less emphasis on
the almighty dollar. The impending DVD, in which both volumes are
finally joined together as they should have been from the get-go,
cannot arrive soon enough.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman