I doubt Quentin Tarantino would seriously object to his Kill Bill films being reviewed as two separate movies, but apparently there is a fairly long-running debate among a handful fans. Is Kill Bill one single movie or two? In a recent interview with CinemaBlend the acclaimed yet always controversial filmmaker threw in his two cents – “I made it as one movie and I wrote it as one movie.” Fair enough, but it still feels like a film that justifies its two parts.
Rewatching the first movie I was reminded of why Kill Bill is easily among my favorite Tarantino pictures. I’m so often at odds with his obsessions and excesses to the point of seeing some of his films as exercises in unbridled self-indulgence. Sure, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” could also be considered very excessive and self-indulgent. In many ways it is. But for the most part it feels much more compact and focused. It’s fully committed to its influences and the excesses are very much a part of the genre he’s most interested in celebrating.
Volume 2 begins at Chapter Six with what may be the movie’s best sequence. It’s a flashback dripping in Sergio Leone influence that digs into the events which sparked the Bride’s quest for revenge. She and a handful of others have gathered for a wedding rehearsal in a little chapel outside of El Paso, Texas. Volume 1 tells us how things turn out and Tarantino uses that knowledge to add a very effective layer of tension to the scene. The opening 15 minutes mixes together some of the film’s sharpest dialogue and savviest camerawork.
In his signature non-linear fashion, Tarantino bounces forward to the Bride (Uma Thurman) and her continued bloodlust for those who killed her unborn baby and left her for dead. Her top target is Bill (David Carradine), the head of the disbanded Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. But first she must hunt down and cut through each of his four former assassins. Two were handled in Volume 1. That leaves Bud (Michael Madsen) and Elle (Darryl Hannah).
Once again this is very much a direct continuation of the first film and both were shot at the same time. Yet despite the clear cohesion, Volume 2 uniquely stands out as its own thing. It surprisingly digs deeper into its characters, something the first film mostly skimmed over but for good table-setting reasons. And you could say Volume 2 comes across as less spectacular and more driven by Tarantino’s signature savory dialogue.
It also stands apart in how much ground it explores. Volume 1 saw Tarantino exquisitely and violently indulging his adoration for the grindhouse martial arts movies of his childhood. This time around his cinematic focus is considerably broader, pulling influence from a wider catalog and experimenting with a number of different techniques and style choices. And all through storytelling that moves to a much different rhythm than the first film.
Tarantino is also known for reintroducing forgotten actors/actresses who have (for one reason or another) fallen off the map. Just think about it, Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown”), Kurt Russell (“Death Proof”, “The Hateful Eight”), Don Johnson (“Django Unchained“), and of course John Travolta (“Pulp Fiction”). This time it’s Carradine and Hannah who get the treatment. Both are great. Tarantino makes perfect use of Carradine’s gravelly, mellow deliveries and Hannah’s sultry ferocity.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 1″ set some lofty expectations and Volume 2 meets them while taking a dramatically different approach to storytelling. But the marvel of it all is in how well both films gel together. It makes sense that Tarantino would consider them one movie despite each having their own uniqueness.
And as with most of his films, Kill Bill is a celebration of cinema. But with Volume 2 he adds layers of humanity and pathos that makes this more than a filmmaker indulging his inner cinephile. There’s actual heart among the grit and the violence along with a dynamic Uma Thurman who fully commits to every line, every emotion, and every swing of her lethal Hattori Hanzō blade.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
I might just have to binge watch these, I did them reasonably far apart the first time.
It’s really surprising how well they play if watched back-to-back especially considering how unique both parts are.
I remembered watching this movie first before I watched volume 1. But since both movies were a bit different from each other, it didn’t really bother me and I think that you could watch this film first before volume 1 and never get confused!
I can completely understand that. They do feel different in several unique ways. I think Tarantino’s non-linear storytelling makes it easier too.
I don’t think Kurt Russell has ever been forgotten. He’s become one of my favorite unsung actors. By which I mean we don’t think of a movie with him in as a Kurt Russell movie the way we’d think of a Tom Cruise movie, or a few others. But he’s a leading man and I think he’s good in everything he does. Now if you want to say Robert Forster fell off the map, I’d go along with that.
I think Russell’s career was always steady but he was on a big leading man trajectory. I think over time people forgot how good of an actor he really was. That his kinda changed as people do really respect his work. But not so much in the strong leading man sense.
I kinda liked the 2nd film more than the first one yet I still see it as one entire film. I loved the arc of Bud as here is someone whose fighting skills has eroded and has become indifferent about himself in some ways. Yet, he proves to be a lot smarter than people give him credit for.
My mother enjoyed the film because of visuals and action yet her favorite scene is the fight between Elle and the Bride. Especially in what the latter did in the end. Again, she’s not into violent films but she enjoyed the hell out of that moment.
That fight between Elle and Bride is stunning. It’s such a tense close quarters sequence and both Thurman and Hannah really give it everything. I absolutely love the opening flashback scene. It is stunningly well shot and written!
I think the factor to the fact that both actresses really hated each other during the production added to the intensity and realism in that scene. I wonder if things have calmed down a bit between the two now.
Not sure. But Tarantino’s camerawork and editing helps too. It’s such a fiercely intense sequence.
Great review. I remember enjoying Kill Bill Vol. 2 more than the first first too. It was mainly because the characterisation had more depth, as well as the great action of the first. When I wrote a recent essay about Tarantino tropes I found an interesting bit of trivia. The name on the grave ‘B’ gets out of is Schultz. It’s rumoured to be – in Tarantino’s mind – the wife of King Schultz from Django Unchained!
Keep up the great writing, Keith.
Thanks Paul. Interesting bit on the grave. There is so much interconnected tissue throughout his films (some of it pretty weird yet fascinating). I actually think I lean towards Vol. 1 as my favorite of the two but it’s really hard. They go together well despite having some significant different styles.
Very true on the Tarantino connections. I wouldn’t mind seeing a chronological director’s cut version of both films. They did that with Godfather 1 and 2 when it was screened on TV in the 1980s. Then again that was still six hours long!
Oh that’s right. I forgot they did that with The Godfather!
I adore both Kill Bill films. The Bride is my favourite film character of all time.
That’s awesome. It’s easily near the top of my Tarantino movie rankings.
Had seen both films during their opening weekends and loved each. Had periodically done back-to-back home screenings once available on disk to get a sense of what QT had originally intended. But, then had been one of those lucky few to have seen KILL BILL: THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIR a few years back, seeing his personal Cannes film fest 35mm print (with French subtitles!), which somewhat spoiled these for me.
Maybe spoiled is too strong a word… can watch both and still enjoy them, but I’ve longed to have “the whole bloody affair” in my sights once more. QT’s primary cut (by his dear departed and sorely missed editor Sally Menke), reimagined in some measure when split into two films, is easily my preferred. As opposed to Tarantino’s released films since her death, even with its ample length, KILL BILL TWBA remains lethally lean and flies far faster than the separately released result.
Very much enjoyed your look back reviews, Keith. Just hoping us fans finally get what we and The Bride rightly deserve and KILL BILL in the best fashion possible.
Interesting. “Lethally lean” is important for me to hear. I often think Tarantino gets too devoted to his brand and needs to be…pruned a bit. But that sounds really cool. I would watch that in a heartbeat.
Agreed, QT needs a stronger editor of late. Don’t think Menke would have allowed him to do what he’s done. There’s an intermission in TWBA that works well in that presentation without “the reveal”, but hope you can judge for yourself. Ironically, have you seen the extended The Hateful 8 cut on Netflix, which plays more like a miniseries? I thought it a better version just for that reason instead of a overly long movie.
I haven’t scene the H8 extended cut. I really need to. I wasn’t a big fan of that movie and maybe that would provide a better perspective. To make myself sound a bit hypocritical, I absolutely loved “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. I won’t rehash my review but I never struggled with its length at all. Funny how that works.
Taken together, the structure of Kill Bill is so ramshackle that you don t have to be Miramax s fabled Harvey Scissorhands to identify those extraneous episodes that could have been saved for DVD had the studio not ripped up its own rulebook to accommodate their house genius. But – and this is a BIG BUT – you can understand why QT was personally loath to lose, well, anything really, because even Vol. 2 s most unpromising detours slough off effortless cool – do we need to see the enterprising Bride ask directions from Esteban Vihaio? No. Is Michael Parks woman-hating pimp entertaining? Yes.