Uma Thurman as The Bride in Kill Bill 2 (© 2004 Miramax Films)
The first time I saw Kill Bill—Vol. 1 I was impressed, but I didn’t exactly like it. I found it a diverting, highly stylized pastiche of America’s schlocky B-movie dregs. After Kill Bill 2, however, the first one was retroactively transformed. Tarantino’s master plan became clear. While the first one was a plunge into grind house and kung-fu pics with an urgency rarely seen in mainstream cinema, Kill Bill 2 is mainly a character piece and, amazingly, Tarantino conjures remarkable emotion and depth. The result of the two films taken together is an American masterpiece—the consummated vision of an artist who went back to the source of his inspiration and made it his own. Quite simply, not since Blue Velvet has there been such a remarkable cinematic achievement that was completely engaged in the mainstream.
The biggest change in Kill Bill—Vol. 2 is the appearance of David Carradine as Bill. In the first one, he existed as only a mysterious, ominous voice, his figure never seen on screen. In the second one he emerges as a charismatic, menacing, downright charming figure. Carradine is truly remarkable—and we understand why The Bride (Uma Thurman) was once so close to him as well as why he must go down.
The film begins the same way as the first one—at the Two Pines Chapel. Now the real story is fleshed out. We see The Bride preparing for her wedding in a dress rehearsal. We see Bill enter, apparently accept her decision gracefully, and then we see his DiVAS enter, guns out. The rest is history.
The Bride still has to kill Budd (Michael Madsen) and Elle (Daryl Hannah), but aside from an astonishing fight between The Bride and Elle in Budd’s trailer, the action and violence is much more muted. Instead we get the back story on Bill and the Bride’s relationship, the bride’s training (which comes in handy when she is buried alive), and finally the meeting between Bill and the Bride. It’s all heady stuff and surprisingly artfully paced; in fact, Tarantino invests so much emotion and nuance into this film one forgets that this is a film in the B-movie aesthetic; it comes across as a saga of the highest order.
Even though Tarantino must be considered the primary star of the film, as this is most definitely his vision, Uma Thurman’s stunning performance cannot be over praised. Fierce, sexy, intelligent, charming, and unstoppable, Uma’s Bride is simply one of the most indelible screen characters. Credit must also be give to Michael Madsen’s weary, compelling work, Daryl Hannah’s feral energy, and Gordon Liu (as Pei Mei, The Bride’s cruel and arrogant martial arts instructor).
Despite its pulp roots, the Kill Bill saga is utterly rigorous and impassioned. Forget The Lord of the Rings—here’s the epic of our time: Kill Bill 1 and 2.