Kill Bill: Vol. 2
I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.
There’s likely a degree to which Tarantino’s reasons for failing to avail himself of Warren Beatty for Bill are bombast (“We decided this movie shouldn’t be our first marriage” – there won’t be one at all now). He cited the Colonel Kurtz factor as key to the original plan with Beatty, so when the decision to introduce Bill earlier was made, the need for a star turn fell by the wayside. But even in his ultimate screenplay, there’s an anticipation for Bill that isn’t really served by the very serviceable but not that electric Carradine; he’s good in the same vanilla way Thurman is. Which is to say, no one here overshadows the action itself, which is probably what Tarantino really wanted.
Not having Beatty is the difference between having Will Smith in Django Unchained and Jamie Foxx. The confrontation between Bill and the Bride is, uh, okay. Yeah, I guess it’s a decent twist that he turns out to have been a good dad to Uma’s child, announced as living at the end of Vol. 1, but we’ve already had children and violence do mix twists in the first scene of the first volume, a fight with Vivica A Fox that leaves her daughter without a mother.
The overall sense is one of “Quentin’s just trying to see how many tenuous tonal shifts he can stuff into his movie” rather than there being any genuine interest in exploring a mother’s relationship with her lost child (anything you get of that is all Uma). Who in any case has been etched out as a budding psychopath (the loveable scamp goldfish incident)
Will Self, in an excoriating review, claimed “Tarantino’s films aren’t merely bad, they also render reasonably intelligent people totally vacuous and stupid” (to which, the great unwashed Internet acolytes will doubtless respond “No, you’re totally vacuous and stupid”). He goes on to suggest, in a position I have some sympathy with, that they “come out spouting a load of gibberish about pop cultural synergy, the purity of the martial-arts genre and how Tarantino is pushing back the frontiers of contemporary cinematic art”. Albeit, I suspect a lot of them, even the professed film buffs, just think, like Quentin, that they’re cool flicks. I’ll leave you to read for yourself what he says about the director as a “masturbating video-store clerk”.
This is, basically, more of the same: more chapters, more fights and more flashbacks, with Chinese martial arts this time instead of Japanese, allowing the introduction of Chekov’s Shaolin King Kong Palm – I mean, Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique – and more choice cuts. Regarding which, while Quentin’s picks for his soundtracks are often inspired, it’s a mistake to lift something already iconic – such as a track from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – and try to make it your own. At least, if you assume or respect your audience has any of the kind of grounding in classic movies you do.
Robert Richardson’s cinematography is striking and colourful, but contrastingly, I don’t care for the switches to black and white in either volume. This time, the Bride must fight Daryl Hannah, a one-eyed Californian Mountain Snake who represents another example of the director – after such resounding early successes – entirely failing to show that a performer has any other sides to justify his lending them the honour of a second career wind. But then, it’s further testament to the mediocrity of his writing on Kill Bill that there wasn’t even a sliver of a Reservoir Dogs/ Pulp Fiction fairy-dust effect. Given Self’s comments about masturbation, I shudder to think how long Tarantino spent in the editing suite, playing and replaying the moment where Uma squidges Daryl’s one remaining eye between her toes.
I do like Michael Madsen’s performance, though, and when Tarantino isn’t switching back into lazy mercenary tactics on Budd’s part, there’s an appealing world weariness to the character and his belief that they’ve all got it coming (the Bride too). His not having pawned his priceless sword after all is also an appealing touch. While the Kill Bills can’t otherwise boast engaging characters, they consistently forward relentlessly seedy ones, in this case Larry Bishop making an impression as the berating manager of the strip club where Budd works.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 seems even longer than Vol. 1 – because it is – and has less variety to it. Which may actually be a good thing, in terms of Tarantino’s taste for distasteful mayhem. The final chapter goes on forever, and would only really justify itself with a Beatty. Hell, Dustin Hoffman would make you sit up in your seat for sheer incongruity value. But I suspect Beatty would have called his director on the sloppy material, which would have required shutting the butt of the then sexagenarian down. I mean, did anyone seriously not groan when Bill announces “As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes”. Yeah, and did you know, Woody sees a psychoanalyst.
Maybe Quentin was spending too much time with Robert Rodriguez, as evidenced by their subsequent ill-fated collaboration. Mostly, I think Kill Bill was an irreversible tipping point, after which, for better or worse, it became clear there’d be no retreat from full immersion in his own cinematic wonderland, where inter-referentiality was everything. Even if he ever got around to remaking Less Than Zero, as he has mooted, it would be an unapologetic ’80s movie/music fest. The positive side is that, after he got the grindhouse out of his system, he’d return to something approaching form.