Kill Bill Vol. 2
More of same, with some fun added in this time.
You are, of course, entitled to your own opinions on the first installment of Kill Bill, even if you are wrong about it. I even went to the bother of seeing it again in a cinema that had a sound system that didn't sound like a mouse farting into a tin can and found the experience a little more agreeable, although not enough to drastically change my opinion on it. Six months later, Vol. 2 rolls into screens with in our case a modifier that's not so much 'eagerly awaited' as 'barely impinged on our consciousness' and yet to my eternal surprise it's actually rather enjoyable.
Largely this is because of a wealth of reviews claiming that it's not as good as the first installment, which again proves our point that you just can't trust anyone about films these days, unless of course they write here. Why people are surprised by the change of tone in the second film from the teahouse scene that rounded off Vol. 1 is rather puzzling, given that the whole gimmick of the film (/ films, depending on your opinion) is the never ending jumps in genre. What separates Vol. 2 from it's predecessor is that most of the interesting bits have wound up here.
While there was only a precious few moments in Vol. 1 that rose above copycat clichés into something more memorable, largely thanks to the legendary Sonny Chiba, Vol. 2 frontloads a tremendously entertaining and well observed 70's kung fu movie pastiche starring Gordon Liu as Master Pai Mei, a crotchety senior citizen ass kicker who impressive skills are only overshadowed by his impressive beard. Chock full of silly techniques, crash zooms and harsh insults, this goes a long way to build up a reservoir of goodwill that can be used to forgive the occasionally ponderous pacing that pervades the rest of the film.
I'm rather assuming that you know the basic plot of the film already, but for those who haven't been tainted by the near saturation level coverage the films received let us enlighten thee. In Vol. 1 were are introduced to The Bride (Uma Thurman), an assassin shot and left for dead by her boss Bill (David Carradine) and his small band of henchmen. After spending four years in a coma, she swears vengeance and embarks on the self proclaimed roaring rampage of revenge that sees O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) dead, with Oren's bodyguards the Crazy 88's (The Yeun Woo-Ping Fight Team) taken out as collateral damage.
Vol. 2 continues this directly, making it not so much a new film as one with a very extensive intermission. Don't expect the overblown and overhyped bloodbath that concluded Vol. 1, the fuss over which completely escapes us, as it's not present. It's replaced with a more controlled and minimalist violence that's far more effective than the teahouse's shabby shenanigans and also with some actual meaningful dialogue that was so woefully absent in the earlier piece. When we actually know something about the characters on screen it makes it so much more easy to care about them, which make Vol. 2 a more pleasing film than the first half.
Bill himself was a barely present fringe player in Vol. 1, a missable blink of a character that sort of undermined the title and goals of The Bride that left us wondering if Eventually Think About Killing Bill After A Period Of Fannying About
Most of the actual action is provided beforehand, with Tarantino again being perhaps the only director to use Michael Madsen to any effect as Budd, the ex-assassin and current trailer trash titty bar bouncer with no-one to bounce. You might even feel sorry for him by the time the story moves on to Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), who's the weakest and most underwritten character in the film by a long shot. Were this film shot in it's original one movie incarnation it's not difficult to imagine her character appearing only on the sweepings of the cutting room.
Thereby hangs a tale. If we take the gestalt Kill Bill's running time, which breaks four hours, it's rather difficult to work out how such a simple revenge tale turned into such a sprawling affair. For my tastes at least, there's a superb three hour film here padded into a two decent two hour odds films. All the stylistic mish mashing and overblown referencing / stealing that plagued the first half are present in equal numbers and in absolute terms Vol. 2 ought to be as mildly risible to me as the first, but it's just more fun, damnit, and that's all that matters to us.
There's still a few ground to moan; actually giving The Bride a real name somewhat detracts from the mythos of the character - would Leone's Dollars films have the same effect if The Man With No Name turned out to be Sebastian Rooks? The scene featuring Michael Parks is completely redundant, but it's easy to let this slide when you're actually enjoying the film. That's what the first half of Kill Bill lacked, and why we were underwhelmed. In Vol. 2.'s case, overwhelmed might be pushing it, so let's just say that we're whelmed by it indeed.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
David Carradine (Bill)
Michael Madsen (Budd)
Daryl Hannah (Elle Driver)
Gordon Liu (Pai Mei)
Michael Parks (Esteban Vihaio)
Perla Haney-Jardine (B.B.)
Sid Haig (Jay the Bartender)