“The Bride” is nearly finished with her mission of vengeance. After dispatching two of the most ruthless members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in spectacularly bloody fashion, only two more stand between her and the man who tore her world apart. Now the Bride must slash her way through Elle Driver, codename California Mountain Snake, and Budd, codename Sidewinder before reaching her ultimate goal of killing Bill.
It seems like every critic on the planet has been trying to figure out what kind of statement uber-director Quentin Tarantino is making with these two films. What does it mean? What does it say? What message is hidden within this mis-mash of kung-fu and exploitation movies? I don’t think any of them have taken the time to consider the possibility that Kill Bill volumes 1&2 aren’t really trying to say anything terribly profound at all. It’s a story about cold, ruthless revenge, plain and simple. It is also a loving tribute to everything Quentin Tarantino cherishes most in life…movies. 70’s Blaxploitation movies. Junky Saturday-morning matinee Kung-Fu movies. Hardcore vengeance movies of the late 70’s-early 80’s. Japanese Anime movies. Hell, just about any kind of movie you can imagine, Tarantino has seen, absorbed, processed, and transplanted its influence onto the screen in these two crazy, frenetic films.
One thing is also made abundantly clear with Kill Bill Vol. 2: Tarantino loves Uma Thurman. He understands her methods, he knows her strengths and her weaknesses, and he uses that knowledge to give us the best Uma Thurman performance to date. In the previous volume, Uma as the Bride was a humorless, unstoppable killing machine. She was cold, efficient, and she didn’t waste a lot of time talking. But in Vol.2, Tarantino humanizes the Bride a bit more. The burden of her mission is beginning to weigh heavily on her heart and on her conscience just enough for her to slip up, and that mistake nearly costs her the mission and her life. It’s a complex, brilliant performance by Thurman, and it shines even more thanks to the outstanding supporting cast that she plays off of.
As with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino isn’t afraid to cast actors that haven’t seen the limelight in quite some time. In Kill Bill Vol. 2, he’s able to once again resurrect not one, but two acting careers in the same film. Darryl Hannah shines as the deliciously devious and malevolent Elle Driver, who we gilmpsed only briefly in the first volume when she donned a nurse’s disguise to finish off the comatose Bride. Her battle with Uma Thurman is so savage, you can feel the hate ooze with every word exchanged and every brutal kick landed. Her method of demise is a very shocking and abrupt surprise. But Hannah’s career re-start is nothing compared to the sheer magnificence of David Carradine’s performance as the grizzly target of the Bride’s vengeance, Bill himself. Carradine’s on-screen presence is chilling; every line delivered from his weathered face is a riveting and terrifying experience. He’s a brilliantly cold, calculating contrast to the Bride’s raging mass of emotions. Their final encounter is an unforgettable duel to the death with an added element of tension that you don’t see coming.
Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a grittier, “talkier” picture than Vol. 1, but that should not be construed as a negative in any way. Gone are the flashy, whirling, blood-spewing kung-fu battles, replaced here with more personal, intimate moments of pain and brutality. Tarantino really wants you to get to know and understand Bill and the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad before they fall under Uma’s wrath. The film strays into more familiar Tarantino territory, with lots of dialogue and quirky characters popping up in even quirkier settings. One of Tarantino’s biggest strengths is his ability to draw the viewer into the seedy underbelly of society and make these incredibly real settings pulsate and breathe with a sense of mystery. The “gimp” scene in Pulp Fiction is a particularly good example of this device. Quentin masterfully creates scenarios that make you feel like anything could happen at any time, no matter how bizarre or absurd it may be.
Tarantino has reached deep into every possible cinematic influence to bring Kill Bill Volumes 1&2 to the big screen. The end result, while not brilliant, is pretty a damn cool movie. And that’s probably what he wanted to make in the first place.