Sunday, 30 September 2012

Film Review | Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)

Kill Bill Volume 2 is in many ways the yin to Volume 1's yang. Traditionally, yang represents brightness as well as masculinity, both qualities that it's easy to attribute to the first half of Tarantino's action epic. By the same token, yin is darker and more feminine, which again fits much of what we see in Volume 2. After the unrelenting action sequences of the first half of his saga, Tarantino redresses the balance opting for a steadier pace and more dialogue-heavy scenes. Whilst Volume 1 revelled in its audacity, Volume 2 is calculated and sinister in its understatement. And whilst The Bride (Uma Thurman) was the ultimate action heroine cutting her way through any who crossed her path to vengeance against Bill (David Carradine) in the first film, here she takes on multiple feminine roles giving the character a brand new set of dimensions.

Picking up where Volume 1 left off, Kill Bill Volume 2 continues The Bride's mission to avenge the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that left her fighting for life on her wedding day. Having dispatched of the first two names of her "Death List Five", The Bride sets her sights on the final three: Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and finally Bill himself.

Volume 2 complements Volume 1 superbly in every way. Whilst the first film focused largely on oriental cinematic traditions and only touching on occidental genres here and there, the opposite is mostly the case here. Tarantino pays homage to Western cinema, most prominently the Spaghetti Western, with maturity and panache, whilst chapters such as The Bride's tenure under sociopathic kung fu master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) link to the first film's Eastern focus superbly. And whilst Volume 1 favoured action over dialogue, Tarantino redresses the balance with some of his finest writing to date for the actors to weave together as a captivating cinematic tapestry.

Tarantino's skill behind the camera continues seamlessly from the first film with every shot a love letter to cinema. From The Bride's "Texas funeral" at the hands of Budd - still one of the most chillingly uncomfortable sequences I can remember experiencing in a cinema thanks to Tarantino's expert manipulation of visual and audio both together and separately - to the near Tex Avery-esque battle between her and Elle Driver in Budd's trailer, this is the work of one of cinema's geniuses.

Many other excellent features from Volume 1 are present once again here. Thurman continues her career-defining performance as The Bride, developing the character further by adding a greater sense of humanity, present in the first film but rightfully overshadowed by her action persona. That's not to say at all that The Bride has abandoned her Hanzo sword; Thurman still has plenty of fight in her, and it's just as enjoyable as ever.

With The Bride having dispatched two of her former associates in Volume 1, Hannah and Madsen step up from their brief appearances in the first film to fill the gaps admirably. Hannah clearly relishes every moment of her performance as Elle Driver, bringing a tenacity and spite to the character which toes the line between caricature and psychosis perfectly. Madsen's turn here as Bill's estranged brother is his best in any film: brilliantly understated, despicable and pitiful, and yet sympathetic and admirable at the same time. The scenes between Budd and The Bride tell a story that could fill their own four-hour epic; Thurman's character never speaks a word to Madsen's. That's how good the performances are in this film.

To that statement, Carradine's Bill is no exception. Tarantino paid homage to the likes of Charlie's Angels's eponymous dispatcher and James Bond's arch-nemesis Blofeld through Bill in Volume 1 by never showing us his face, making Carradine's performance mysterious and chillingly cool but limiting the layers the character could conceivably have. Lifting this restriction from himself in Volume 2, the director unleashes Bill as one of his most complex, enigmatic characters; Carradine's performance in the role cannot be understated as a pivotal factor in the success of this transformation. Every moment Carradine has on screen is electric, bringing a dangerous unpredictability yet irresistable charisma to the role. His chemistry with Thurman is also a wonderful thing to behold.

After Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Volume 2 is the Tarantino film that comes under the greatest amount of negative criticism. And just as with Jackie Brown, I simply cannot understand why. Volume 2 is mature and steady, finely balanced and expertly crafted. By its very nature as the first of the two films, Volume 1 had to work as both a standalone film and as the first half of an epic story. Volume 2 had the different task of being a satisfying conclusion to that story, as well as a pleasing sequel to its predecessor, and it succeeds on both counts. Volume 2 is the perfect companion piece to Volume 1, and Kill Bill as a whole deserves to be heralded as a landmark cinematic masterpiece.


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