Directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Sonny Chiba, Vivica A Fox, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, LaTanya Richardson, Michael Jai White, Gordon Liu and Samuel L Jackson.
The Bride aka Black Mamba aka Beatrix Kiddo (aka Uma Thurman) is back for the second part of Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' and she's badder than ever - although there's less of a bite to the conclusion of her "roaring rampage of revenge" than there was to its beginning. This time 'round, the action gets somewhat diluted by conversation, which will please those who missed Tarantino's characteristic dialogue from the first half, but may disappoint those viewers more anxious to continue the bloody slaughter than talk about it.
Where 'Vol 1' was driven by violence - particularly the stylised violence of kung fu films - this instalment is more concerned with the emotional turmoil that might surround someone being almost killed on their wedding day by their former colleagues, left in a coma for several years and having their child stolen by an ex-lover. It's safe to say that Beatrix has a lot of catching up to do. After despatching fellow members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad Vernita Green (Fox) and, in the spectacular House of Blue Leaves fight sequence, Oren-Ishii (Liu), she's on the trail of the last three - Budd (Madsen) and Elle Driver (Hannah) with, of course, her ultimate aim being to kill Bill (Carradine).
'Kill Bill: Vol 2' opens in black and white with Beatrix talking directly to camera, en route to Mexico to fulfil her deadly promise, and then flashes back to Texas to flesh out the murderous episode on what was to be her wedding day. That's when Bill, unseen in 'Vol 1' and played here with impeccable sang-froid by Carradine, makes his first, flute-heralded, appearance. Initially, this is one of Tarantino's more beautiful scenes. In an intense exchange the two leads say everything and nothing, unfolding their relationship and setting the scene for both films before Bill turns his DiVAS on the wedding party.
The restraint Tarantino shows here is in marked contrast to 'Vol 1' and sets the scene for 'Vol 2's conversational emphasis. As the rest of the revenge tale unfolds, again in non-sequential segments, there's a lot more dialogue than action. It's as anecdotal and referential (and bound to be quotable) as ever, but it also serves to give this film a depth and emotion that was missing in the first. That's not to say that there's no violence, Beatrix still has fights to fight, in particular a spectacular and gruesome showdown with arch rival Elle.
Moving from 'Vol 1's mainly Eastern settings, 'Vol 2' concentrates on the US and Mexico - apart from a well-timed flashback to Beatrix's harsh training by marital arts baddie Pei Mei (Liu) - as Tarantino pays homage to Italian Spaghetti Westerns. A cinematic magpie, he has always pilfered from a wide variety of sources and 'Kill Bill' is no exception, covering John Ford's 'My Darling Clementine', the Shaw Brothers' kung fu films, Sergio Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in the West', Swedish revenge movies and Carradine's own past as a Seventies martial arts icon. It's a near-indigestible mix yet Tarantino has managed to make a film that will delight the nerds, while not alienating a less cinema-literate public.
Across the board, the acting is wonderful. David Carradine's charisma gives the philosophical, charming and loving but deadly Bill more depth than should have been possible and Michael Madsen, although underused, makes a fine wreck of a man. Daryl Hannah is a memorable villain and Samuel L Jackson even crops up in a small cameo. But ultimately this film belongs to Uma Thurman, who turns in a physically and emotionally flawless performance.
While the pacing of 'Vol 2' staggers from time to time, probably from the effort of justifying two separate releases, it is still an entertaining experience. Put both parts together, though, and Tarantino's achievement is far more impressive. It's a film that theses could be written about and probably will. It's three stars for 'Vol 2' but four for the total 'Kill Bill' experience. Modern mythmaking at its most satisfying.