Be careful what you ask for.
In my review of Kill Bill Vol. 1, I admired its pure style and mastery of the language of pure cinema but said that I hoped the sequel would provide more character and texture. Well, that is what screenwriter/director Quentin Tarantino has done, or at least tried to do with Vol. 2, but the result is a less successful movie than the original.
In Vol. 1, a woman known only as “The Bride” (Uma Thurman) awoke from a coma to seek revenge on the squad of assassins who gunned down everyone at her wedding and left her for dead. The film was dazzling in its combination of narrative minimalism with maximization of just about everything else, an onslaught of images, genres, action, and carnage.
While admiring the supercharged audacity and astonishing technical control of the first “volume,” for me it felt less pure than sterile. Revenge is the simplest and most convenient engine for a movie plot. It takes just a moment to set it up and then we are on the Bride’s side for as long as it takes for her to cross each name off her list. The hints of more details about the elite squad of assassins, each with aliases of deadly snakes, were so tantalizing. Where were they from? What did they do and how did they learn to do it? Why did it all change?
Now we get to find out much of that and you know what? It was better not to know. Tarantino is far better at, well, pulp fiction than at drama. The dialogue sounds like imitation Tarantino and the exposition plays like it should have stayed on the cutting room floor. This movie, for all of its showmanship and technique, diminishes the first one. We were better off imagining the left-out details or projecting them onto spareness of the movie like a Rorschach inkblot.
It was better to know the heroine only as “The Bride” and wonder about her name than to find out that her name is Beatrix Kiddo. It would be like telling us what really is inside the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. We’re better off putting into it what each one of us wants it to be.
The scene where Beatrice learns why she must leave the DiVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) has some juicy juxtaposition along the lines of the first one’s battle with Vernita, interrupted to welcome her little girl home from school. But the reason itself, as corny as Kansas in August, doesn’t work as drama or as archly meta-archetypical post-modern commentary. Discussions of the stringent standards of Pai Mei (Hong Kong martial arts movie star Chia Hui Liu, voiced by Tarantino), his “the wood should fear your hand, not the other way around,” and the dressing-down of a bouncer by a bar-owner put a drag on the movie’s momentum and the additional brutalization of The Bride, even in Tarantino-world, is just overkill.
There are some great set-pieces, including ingeniously constructed confined-space battles and an escape from being buried alive. And there are some great lines. A character refers to “what women call the silent treatment. We let them think we don’t like it.” I liked the discussion of what makes Superman different from other superheroes without entirely buying it. But it all gets a little too cute and self-aware, with The Bride telling us that we have referred to her “roaring rampage of revenge” and mentions of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Shogun Assassin. At his best, Tarantino runs the zillions of movies he loves through his brain, chops them up and recombines them to show us what they say about the way we want to see ourselves and the way we really do. But at his worst, it’s all just a little closed loop of inside references. To speak to him in the movie language he knows best, it’s all just a little too much “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
Parents should exercise the strongest possible caution in deciding whether this movie is appropriate for their families, even for those over 18. This movie is an outrageous and over the top story about people who kill other people for money and for pure enjoyment. It is extremely violent with graphic and exceptionally explicit fight scenes. There are many horrifying images including a squashed eyeball, a badly scarred prostitute, and a dessicated corpse. Many characters are killed. Characters use extremely strong language and they drink and smoke.
Families who see this movie should talk about what led Beatrice to become an assassin and what made her decide to quit. What do these characters tell us about their notion of justice? What are we supposed to admire about them?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the original Kill Bill and Tarantino’s other films, including Pulp Fiction (extreme language, violence, and drug use).