Wednesday 3 April 2013

Movie Review: Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

The second part of Quentin Tarantino's ultimate revenge fantasy is more cerebral and less feral. Kill Bill Vol. 2 completes the story with rewarding intensity, the focus shifting from large-scale mayhem to personal mutual fury and passion between The Bride and Bill.

The Bride, now identified as Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), continues her quest for revenge. In flashback the massacre at her wedding rehearsal is more fully recounted, revealing that she and Bill (David Carradine) were lovers. Beatrix was pregnant with Bill's daughter but had left him and abandoned her profession of assassination to try and establish a normal life. She settled for the clueless Tommy as her husband-to-be. Picking up the revenge story, she now goes after Bill's brother Budd (Michael Madsen), who is broke and living in a remote desert trailer. But warned of her likely arrival after the events of the first film, Budd is ready, gets the jump on Beatrix, buries her alive, and steals her Hanzo sword.

In flashback again, the story of Bill arranging for Beatrix to be trained at the hands of master warrior Pai Mei is presented. Back to the present and while Beatrix is extricating herself from her premature grave using the skills learned from Pai Mei, Budd is arranging the sale of the sword to former colleague Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). But the two killers turn on each other, and Beatrix arrives to mop-up. This leaves Beatrix with nothing between her and Bill: she tracks him down and arrives at his house for a final showdown, only to be surprised by an unexpected domestic scene.

Compared to Vol. 1, the second instalment settles down to a slightly more traditional pace, with a more rational, story-intensive approach.  While Vol. 1 was cultivated carnage in which not even The Bride's name was necessary, Vol. 2 fills in the gaps. The relationship between Bill and Beatrix is fleshed-out, the crucial minutes before the wedding party massacre receive eloquent black and white treatment, and Beatrix's training at the hands of Pai Mei is gracefully woven into her battle for freedom from a grave.

Finally Beatrix and Bill do meet, and it's an encounter that is more about emotional cleansing than physical violence. After all the spectacular death that was required for Beatrix to arrive face to face with Bill, their climactic meeting is a struggle of former lovers now and forever bonded by life. The confrontation will only be resolved with the unanticipated application of a lesson from the deep past.

Uma Thurman is again impressive with a brisk presence, and this time her performance is less about destructive external physicality and more about defeating her inner demons. Beatrix is a woman coming to terms with all of her life's meanings and mistakes, Bill helpfully injecting her with a truth serum so that she doesn't even lie to herself. Killer, lover, and mother, Beatrix comes to the realization that she can be any one but never all three, and Thurman allows the vulnerabilities of a ruthless killer to emerge as she races towards the biggest decisions of her life. Over the course of the two movies, Thurman's was deserving of the highest accolades, and although ridiculously ignored by the Academy Awards, she did garner two Golden Globe nominations.

David Carradine adds a dose of sanguine pretentious paternalism to the role of Bill, while Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen are eager adversaries lining up against Beatrix - and each other. The large cast of Kill Bill Vol. 2 also includes small roles for Bo Svenson and Samuel L. Jackson as members of the ill-fated wedding party.

Tarantino floored the accelerator in Vol. 1. In Vol. 2, he eases back on the throttle and demonstrates deft handling to conclude the absorbing revenge story at an irresistibly human scale.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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