The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) quest for revenge comes to a close in Kill Bill Vol. 2, thus mercifully ending Quentin Tarantino’s masturbatory two-part genre mix-tape. Unlike the straightforward samurai homage of Vol. 1, this second installment moves more fluidly between kung fu kookiness – personified by Chia Jui Liu’s Pai Mei, a cackling, white-bearded chop-socky sage who, in flashbacks, teachs Thurman how to discover her inner ass-kicker – and Wild West worship. Yet appreciating Tarantino’s numerous nods to spaghetti Western masters doesn’t mean one has to enjoy them, and mimicking both Ennio Moriccone’s iconic theme and Peter Fonda’s mysterious walk across the desert from Once Upon A Time in the West merely highlights how soulless the Kill Bill saga is in comparison to its illustrious source material.
David Caradine, his grizzled, weather-beaten face exuding a snake charmer’s cunning, makes a refreshingly mournful villain, and Tarantino, during Bill’s speech about superhero mythology and the nature of identity, finally rediscovers (after Vol. 1’s dreadful “Silly Trix rabbit” dialogue) his knack for imbuing pop culture pontificating with thematic weight. If far more dramatically meaty than its predecessor, however, Vol. 2 is also infinitely more tiresome, and feels like Tarantino, exhausted from Vol. 1’s non-stop barrage of limb-severing action, simply needed to catch his breath. The Bride’s battle with Daryl Hannah’s one-eyed Elle Driver inside a trailer home doesn’t properly take advantage of its constricted battlefield, and scenes involving killer Budd’s (Michael Madsen) bad day at work and Michael Parks’ sleazy Mexican pimp not only drag as much as Keith Richards on a Marlboro, but feel like filler included only to ensure that Vol. 2 makes it to feature-length size.
Thurman’s leggy elegance is routinely disfigured by Tarantino’s fetishistic desire to see her perpetually bloodied and broken, but the film’s most frustrating failure is its decision to wrap things up with a definitive Western “walk off into the sunset” ending rather than on a more ambiguously hopeless note. As with so many of today’s revenge films, Kill Bill Vol. 2 indulges in the base pleasures of seeing someone exact holy vengeance, but fails to address (or deliberately sidesteps?) the fact that seeking retribution, while sometimes reasonable and just, rarely provides happy, sunny catharsis or resolution. Tarantino, through a rather foreseeable plot twist, shows his lack of interest in the emptiness and misery that remains once revenge has been served; he’s solely concerned with showing off his video store-bred encyclopedic knowledge of film. Me, I’ll take the soulful humanity of QT’s Jackie Brown and a $5 milkshake over Kill Bill’s patchwork film history photocopying any bloody day of the week.