Kill Bill: Volume 2 Review

by Richard A. Zwelling (razwee AT yahoo DOT com)
April 27th, 2004

** (out of ****)
a film review by
Richard A. Zwelling

On April 13, 2004, the first DVD of Kill Bill: Volume 1 was released. I say "first", because I believe it highly likely that after the "first" Kill Bill: Volume 2 DVD emerges, we will be in the midst of a super-duper-mega-deluxe edition of both films together as a single work (with oodles of special features just begging to throw themselves at googly-eyed Quentin Tarantino connoisseurs).

This disappointed me, and heightened my already increasing contempt of Miramax studios, which tries to "buy" the Oscars every year and sees no shame in unnecessarily milking hard-earned dollars out of you, the loyal viewer. With Tarantino's revenge-laden, blood-drenched epic split in twain, viewers have to shell out more than double the cash for 2 screenings, 2 "preliminary" DVDs, and what will most assuredly be an outrageously priced deluxe edition (rather than a single screening and a single DVD package).

This presented me with a dilemma. I could go for immediate gratification and shell out $20 for the current DVD release, or hold back my excitement (and my cash) in waiting until the deluxe edition…because I was most assuredly going to love Kill Bill: Volume 2...right?? After a first volume that had me ready to leap from my seat in exuberance, there's no way my reaction to the follow-up could be diametrically opposed...right??

Dilemma solved. Not only did I find this film immensely disappointing, but I am now willing to give a little bit of credence to critics who are calling Tarantino a talented, well-established directorial superpower that has become too self-indulgent and egocentric for his own good.

I admit that there were several sequences that might have merited excision from the first film, but I found every frame so exhilarating and well-thought out that I did not mind the extra padding (in fact, I supported it). Not so with film two. As a 90-minute film, Kill Bill: Volume 2 would have been decent, and maybe even recommendable. At 130 minutes, however, it is a snooze-inducing bore.

Example 1: a scene in which The Bride (Uma Thurman) struggles in an enclosed area (I won't give away the circumstances). We are given heavy breathing and sounds of bumping around for what seems like two minutes. Could 10-15 seconds not convey the same thing?

Example 2: In a flashback, we witness The Bride and Bill (David Carradine) beside a campfire in the middle of a desert landscape. Bill interrupts his dialogue intermittently by playing tunes on what looks to be a variant of a flute. Why? I was informed that this is a nod to Carradine's character from Kung Fu, but viscerally, I did not find it effective as a cinematic motif, and I certainly found it devoid of the cleverness inherent in the first volume. Result: a scene which lasted probably 25% longer than it should have.

In addition, I find it ironic that the second film is being regarded as the one that is more heavily driven by dialogue and character. Upon hearing this, I expected the sort of Tarantino zing that accompanied the dialogue and character development of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Sorry to sound blasphemous to all Q fans out there, but the dialogue of this film is flat, hackneyed, poorly-written, and it often drags on far longer than is necessary.

And the only character I found a true delight to watch was Elle Driver (played rapaciously by Daryl Hannah, going headfirst against her usual types of roles). She bites voraciously into all of her lines, most of which are malicious and heartless, and her eye-patched visage (complete with a ruthless stare) creates a thoroughly memorable villain.

I would have liked to see it be Kill Elle instead, because I found Carradine's Bill to be a let-down. Carradine himself gives a credible performance, but his lines are devoid of the type of charming evil I was expecting. The final confrontation between The Bride and Bill is where the turgid, sterile dialogue is at its worst. By this point, I was looking at my watch far too often, and I felt the film should have been over 10-20 minutes prior.

Michael Madsen gives a solid performance as Budd, yet another henchman that The Bride must dispatch, but his character is so lifeless and uninteresting that the performance loses its effect.

One of the things that made the first film such a success is that it took time to flesh out the villains and not just the heroes. Truly, who could feel full contempt for the character of O-ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) after witnessing the brutal tragedy of her childhood in Volume 1? Yet since she is against The Bride, she is technically a villain. Because Tarantino imbues O-ren with a sympathetic background and admirable qualities, when her comeuppance finally arrives, we feel a sense of karma, but not of schadenfreude.

Unlike O-ren, we learn nothing of Budd's or Bill's pasts. In Volume 1, we learn that the master sword-maker, Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba), is sympathetic to The Bride's mission, because she is aiming to kill Bill, who is a former protégé of Hanzo's. What was the history between Hanzo and Bill? What did Bill do to elicit such acrimony from Hanzo? We never learn.

A flaw like this makes something apparent: Tarantino finished a great first film and forgot to write the script for the second.

Yet another thing that made Kill Bill: Volume 1 a genre-bending masterpiece was it's successful use of tongue-in-cheek nods to motifs and references of Eastern films (especially the martial arts of the Shaw Brothers' films). The nods were subtle (in an ostentatious way), well-conceived, humorous, and effective.

With Kill Bill: Volume 2, the focus shifts to the West, and the result is nowhere near as compelling. The references and motifs call excessive attention to themselves and seem forced. For example, there is use of timbres such as low-pitched guitars and plaintive trumpet melodies, which attempt to compliment the omnipresent archetypes of the Western, but their excessive and conspicuous use detracts from their intended impact.

We see TV screens with footage of old Westerns, but here, they seem awkwardly placed. And the constant use of panoramic shots covering vistas of sand and shrub do not take long to wear thin, mainly because they appear trite and not novel (unlike the references of the first film).

By the end of the film, I felt as if I had hit rock-bottom after being on an intense, euphoric high. Much as my Kill Bill: Volume 1 experience was akin to Uma's memorable adrenaline injection in Pulp Fiction, this experience was akin to being ruthlessly ambushed by tranquilizer darts compounded by a heavy dose of downers.

These two films easily had the potential to be the greatest "schlock for cinéastes" opus ever made. It's too bad old Quentin developed what I like to call the "Ed Wood syndrome": being so hopelessly enamored with every frame of your film that you don't stop to notice what does not belong.

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