I am desperately trying to digest the bloated Kill Bill vol. 2. I wish to come up with a fair and impartial review, but I fear this is not possible. To set aside my desire to punch Quentin Tarantino in the face, this is not easy to do. Okay, he is a hipster-idiot who manages to do something interesting with a camera from time to time; he knows a hell of a lot about movies; he can find the perfect music to support his visuals. But he is also a big kid with a little too much ego for his own good. Apparently Miramax disagrees.
I'll start off by saying that I liked Kill Bill vol. 1, even as my friends told me I was crazy. All the post-college detractors who wish to let everyone see that they now know better (and feel subsequent shame for sporting Pulp Fiction posters on their dorm room walls) went to great lengths to convince me that I was wrong and that the film was, like most things Tarantino, glossy trash and rip-offs masquerading as homage. And they were right. Tarantino does well to recycle the elements of the movies he lapped up as a video store clerk/geek much, as Kill Bill 1's DVD tells us, the way Spielberg and Lucas did with Raiders of the Lost Ark. This hardly excuses taking the Hong Kong thriller City on Fire and using it as a template for Reservoir Dogs, nor does it excuse countless other borrows. But who cares? I don't. I never have. So long as his films were as enjoyable as they can be, I didn't complain. But I might have to start now.
The first installment was a fast and fierce tale of revenge. It had sword fights and a lot of punch. It was strange; it seemed to exist in a world quite unlike the one we are forced to live in. It was goofy and bloody as hell. It was quite cinematic and had great music, great atmosphere and the 5, 6, 7, 8's, who made it all the better for this viewer. It went for excess and reached it beautifully. Far from a perfect film, it was a perfect bloody mess. Tacked on filth and locker room sensibilities (most notably the "Pussy Wagon") aside, it hit more often than it missed and promised something big and bad next time around. Alas it seems the fire was spent far too soon.
Volume two starts off slow, picks up and then ends even more slowly than it began. Call me any name you like, but I like my bloody revenge tales to be bloody. And volume two is not. There is far more emphasis on dialogue-something the fans of Q.T. are always holding up as his greatest strength, a claim I have never understood. For a director who has such a great sense of visual panache he can often let his words meander and then drown a scene. Sam Jackson's speech to Tim Roth at the end of Pulp Fiction comes to mind. So does the last half hour of Kill Bill 2. The bride (whose name is finally revealed, although why so late in the game-and why the mystery-- I don't know,) finds Bill and confronts him, fully intending on staging the big showdown that the viewer surely expects given not only the title of the film but the spectacular fight scene from volume one between Uma and countless yakuzas. But the talk talk talk kills it like a samurai sword through the neck and in the end we are left with an anti-climax and a few unanswered questions. I suppose there is room to answer them with Kill Bill 3 but at this point I don't think I care.
Nevertheless, the film works when it works. Michael Madsen plays the most fleshed out and sympathetic character aside from Uma's bride and comes very close to being her greatest adversary. His pathos combined with sleaze does well to make the film interesting, and something needs to considering the lack of meat to this bloodless feature. At times it almost seems as though he is acting in a different (and better) film than most of the other players. Ditto David Carridine, who steals every scene. But again, too little too late. I am sure many would tell me that I missed the point, that Tarantino is trying to create something for the ages, a revenge tale that serves up a rich stew of his favorite movie themes, a variable mix tape of cinematic imagery and action, with a little heart. I suppose he is trying to lend a little poetry to what was previously a slice-em-up blood feast. Yeah, well let's leave characterization and depth to a director who might have a little character and depth. Tarantino could be the next great hack, and the world needs great hacks. If only he'd stop trying to be the thinker he'll never be.