And so the adventure continues. . . . The second installment of Quentin Tarantino’s bifurcated pulp epic builds to a satisfying closer as the superheroine known as The Bride (Uma Thurman) is avenged. What’s surprising is the atmosphere of sweet reason—relatively speaking—that distinguishes Kill Bill Vol. 2 from its bloody precursor.
Vol. 2 is not exactly a zephyr breeze but it’s pretty sotto voce—with an emphasis on the voce. Call it the ethereal yin to Vol. 1′s visceral yang. Vol. 2 delights in postponing carnage, even staging some off-camera. And where Vol. 1 had no more dialogue than a Road Runner cartoon, Vol. 2 is positively garrulous. Nearly every outburst is preceded by an outrageously prolonged and verbose confrontation—particularly those involving the nefarious Bill (David Carradine) who, introduced at last, proves to be a master of long-winded bullshit and the bamboo flute.
As Vol. 1 mainly synthesized blaxploitation and yakuza, so Vol. 2 largely oscillates between spaghetti western and old-school chopsocky. The presiding deities are Sergio Leone and King Hu. The heart of the movie is a chapter detailing The Bride’s training with the irascible “white eyebrow monk” Master Pai Mei (Shaw Brothers veteran Gordon Liu in a role that Tarantino originally reserved for himself—and wisely eschewed). With its smudgy widescreen and cavernous soundstage, the sequence pays hilarious homage to the absurd makeup, tacky leaps, and interpolated shadow dancing of early-’70s martial arts.
Vol. 2 is full of flashbacks and fakelore, kung-fu catfights and tacky rear-screen projection, not to mention the sort of pranks that would have had a ’70s 42nd Street audience bellowing expletives in delight. But the power of suggestion is also employed—most spectacularly in an instance of premature burial. The strange thing is that, although half an hour longer than Vol. 1 and comparatively underplayed, Vol. 2 actually feels leaner. Either Tarantino has responded to objections regarding the first installment’s violence or, more likely, created a temporary edifice to facilitate the commercial demand that his movie be split.
Structurally, Vol. 2‘s final sequence rhymes Vol. 1‘s opener, but there is a sense of chronology simplified and reshuffled. The larger rhythms seem off—clearly there is material in Vol. 1 that would more effectively appear later in the saga, while the revelation that The Bride’s birth name is Beatrix Kiddo hints at an even more convoluted backstory. Still, the movies have a cumulative power. Tarantino elevates Uma Thurman into the action-flick firmament—she’s the lethal Marlene Dietrich projected by his geek Josef von Sternberg. Her acrobatic voguing transcends performance. Carradine is also fabulous—it’s as though he’d taken a 30-year vow of silence in preparation for this blabbermouth role.
Tarantino’s persona has long grown stale, but his enthusiasm remains fresh. Kill Bill is less labor of love than religious shrine. The extravagant recycling of Ennio Morricone, the references to obscure ’70s sockadelia, and the elaborate cameos are the equivalent of shooting the movie in Aramaic. (Who outside the faith would be moved by a line like “You hocked a Hattori Hanzo sword!?!?”) Not only is The Bride resurrected but Tarantino even provides his own version of biblical foreshadowing. The key to the movie’s denouement may be found in the initials of the My Oh My titty bar and is furthered by a teasing hint that the saga may yet continue as a version of Shogun Assassin.
Kill Bill is one wacky magnificent assemblage, and Tarantino salutes himself with a clip from what looks like a ’40s Terrytone: “The magpie deserves your respect,” one funny animal tells another. He does indeed. The Bride’s destiny has been fulfilled, but the movie’s won’t be until the day Vol. 1 weds Vol. 2.