Kill Bill, Vol. 2
Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
[This review contains ending spoilers, so beware.]
As with last year, I refuse to rate one half of a film. I would not be so opposed to the cutting of "Kill Bill" into two parts if it did not damage the film so much: Part one provides the entertainment in form of action spectacle and humor, and part two provides the emotional resonance that gives the story so much depth. Each half without the other is lacking an essential element, and the combined film would have been an exuberant masterpiece that would have easily been one of the best films of the year and gotten Uma Thurman her deserved Oscar nomination.
Look, I know Harvey Weinstein is well-liked in Hollywood because, on the whole, he does champion art over business. Nobody else in the business would have funded this film at all without significant changes. But, as the viewer, how can I not be frustrated with film-ruining decisions made so Weinstein can make or save a buck? Consider the biggest weakness of "Vol. 2," that you leave it with a certain dissatisfaction. We have seen the story completed, and yet we feel like there's something missing, some action sequence that at least makes "Vol. 2" feel like it's worthy to follow the battle against the Crazy 88. In the script, there was such a sequence: Bill and the Bride were written to have an elaborate final battle with their katana on the beach at sunrise, the Bride in her wedding dress. But the film ran over schedule, and Weinstein ordered that it be completed in a hurry, so Tarantino whipped up a quicky solution to the conflict that is over nearly in the blink of an eye. We've waited anxiously for three and a half hours for her to kill Bill, and that's it? Granted, their total time together in this film, flashbacks included, is easily the most time she spends with any of the people on her hit list, so the "showdown" is prolonged. But it sure doesn't play like a culmination of what came before it.
I shouldn't dwell on the negative just because I'm mad. This coulda, woulda, shoulda been a great movie, and that "Vol. 2" still a very good one is because of Tarantino's talents. Here he reaffirms his fading status as one of the most interesting screenwriters in the business, with dialogue that soars, runs, and crawls as needed, that can find valuable insights in unlikely sources, and that can even mock itself from time to time. Even when the characters make unbelieveable claims, such as when Bill says he reads comic books, they have been blessed with immense storytelling talent, and they're simply putting it to use whether they're telling the absolute truth or not. The dialogue is not just the engine driving this film, it's frequently the focal point, and Tarantino has a knack for making you grateful for his careful word choices.
There are two other strong elements to the film. There's the pastiche aesthetic, but for all its strength, it seems more than a little put-on at times. The other is the aforementioned emotional resonance, as we finally learn why the Bride betrayed Bill and why Bill betrayed the Bride. Every accusation (including mine) that "Vol. 1" was only a pointless, empty series of battles now has its answer. These characters are not the wind-up action figures they seem on the surface; there's a remarkably tender dynamic between Bill and the Bride, played by the actors with generous attention to every line, and the requisite throwaway scenes hold a fascination all their own. If it seems strange that Tarantino spends so much time building up a character with dramatic scenes, only to have the character eliminated quickly with a too-brief action scene, ask yourself whether the point is the drama or the action. In fact, that's one reason I reject the pastiche aesthetic; the film is working so very well as drama that when it switches gears into chop-socky mode with the ridiculous kung-fu master, that comes as a jarring momentum-killer. I would have preferred the film throw out its homage elements and stick to straight drama and action, because there's obviously enough quality in those departments to sustain the whole film. Even with the silly throwback elements, even cut in half and robbed of the ending that it and we deserve, this remains one of the most soulful and best of modern action movies, a glorious marriage of style and, thanks to "Vol. 2," substance.