Kill Bill: Vol.2 ushers in a return to form for director Quentin Tarantino. He has made a powerful and surprisingly maternal film that seethes with a passionate love and mastery of cinema evident in every frame; he knows what he is doing and he knows exactly how to present it to the audience. Vol. 2 stands up to the challenge presented by Vol. 1, and like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the complete Kill Bill stands even better than a single volume does on its own.
It is very difficult not to compare volumes 1 and 2 when discussing either film, and there are notable differences in tone and violent content between them. The tone change is a mental and physical switch from an Eastern (as in the Far East) to a Western setting (in the classic American sense). In the West people are more likely to confront each other with guns rather than swords. Gone is the yellow suit with black strips down the sides reminiscent of Bruce Lee, replaced by cowboy hats and dusty Chevys on empty Texan roads.
Uma Thurman once again rocks Kill Bill and makes it her own. Her life force on screen makes it easy to see why Tarantino has gone head over heels for her. Like Sofia Coppola with Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, Tarantino wrote a role specifically for his muse that plays up her strengths as an actress. This could be confused with a lack of acting if one doesn't carefully examine her performance, because a closer look reveals that this is the performance of Thurman's career and likely the one that will define her time on the silver screen.
In Vol. 2, the motives and feelings of The Bride (we learn her real name in the film, but you won't here) become much clearer. Although this is a quest for revenge, more importantly it is the efforts of a mother to reclaim the child that was taken away from her. Along the way, she plans to meet up with Budd (Mike Madsen, who is excellent at expressing the sadness of his decisions that led him to a beat-up trailer in rural Texas), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah, in a delicious role that plays up her natural persona and abilities), and, of course, Bill (David Carradine).
I will not say what happens in the film's confrontations, but Tarantino masterfully sets up and presents each one perfectly. Just when everything may seem hopeless, he quickly cuts to a flashback. This non-linear structure works well in itself in pacing the film, and gives it a better overall arc. But he weaves in a connection to the previous scene without viewers being able to tell exactly what he's doing until it is right in front of your face.
Throughout the film, there are numerous soliloquies that echo Pulp Fiction in their seeming unimportance to the narrative events, while actually being vital to the characters. The best come from Bill in an amazing performance by David Carradine. In a role that was originally written for Warren Beatty, he is sadistic, yet likeable. In one flashback, he tells Thurman's character the story of the grand kung fu master Pai Mei, whose numerous eccentricities include a hatred of Caucasians, Americans and, most of all, women.
Besides the power of Bill's prose, much can be deduced about the relationship between our hero and her mentor by watching their interactions. Thurman's nuances in this scene are reminiscent of a little girl who has a crush; there are little jokes between them, and a calm yet palpable sense of chemistry exists. The subtle explanation of their relationship is one of the most important elements of Vol. 2 because, as viewers, we have only seen the hatred that she feels for him. Through these scenes, one can see why he was the person who would give all these beautiful VAS (Viper Assassination Squad) women orders; his nickname isn't Snake Charmer for nothing.
Shame on the Academy for not nominating Thurman for Kill Bill Vol. 1 over much less worthy performances simply because of its genre biases. Second chances don't come around often; let's hope the Academy uses its wisely.
Rating: 4 Polar Bears (of 4)