If Kill Bill vol. 1 and Kill Bill vol. 2 were released as a single movie as originally intended, then it would have had a lock on the best movie I’ve ever seen. Bifurcated at the request of the studio, each half is less than the difference of their sum and neither, individually considered, could be heralded as the pinnacle of cinema. Each handily represents the best movie of the year it was released, though.
The second half continues along the same inexorable path started in the first. The Bride (Uma Thurman) seeks revenge on those who nearly murdered her and definitely murdered her unborn—she believes—child. Having dispensed with Vivica Fox and Lucy Liu in spectacular fashion, she must now kill Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, and (inevitably) David Carradine. Though the conclusion is a foregone conclusion, it is easy to forget the outcome while watching this movie. There were parts when I thought that the Bride was a goner—that’s how powerful this movie is.
That’s the plot and the denouement. If I breezed over it casually, it’s because the plot was supremely indicated in the first part and every event and action in the second installment follows logically from the premises thus established. It is a simple story of revenge. The wonder that is the Kill Bill franchise takes place in character development, action scenes, dialogue, and visual composition.
The film shines as art. Every frame, every scene, and every shot has an underlying composition as consciously arrived at as any painting or sculpture. Writer/director Quentin Tarantino has an amazing eye for the essence of a scene. While there is no scene as stunningly beautiful as the confrontation between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in a tea garden in the snow, the scope of the filming is just as epic. Tarantino’s influences can be seen readily and represent a source of joy for the audience to discover. I particularly enjoyed their discovery, as I am a big fan of the spaghetti westerns and samurai flicks to which Tarantino obviously paid homage.
The dialogue is masterfully crafted. We really get the sense that these people who live in a completely different world speak as if they’re otherworldly. When Michael Madsen says “That woman deserves her revenge…and we deserve to die,” it makes perfect sense and establishes Madsen as an erstwhile assassin who is prepared to face the consequences of his actions. On the other hand, the line reads like something out of literature. What’s more, every line serves a purpose and furthers the plot or character development along.
That character development represents the best part of this movie, like action and visual composition defined the first. It is primarily advanced through flashbacks showing the relationship between Thurman and Carradine, the training of Thurman, or the agony of Thurman trying to extricate herself from her life. By the end, we can see why the Bride does what she does and we can cheer her on. We also come to understand her single-mindedness.
This single-mindedness is the most inspiring part of the movies. Normal people are very often out of focus, drifting through their days avoiding the mental effort required in life. Thurman’s Bride possesses a laser-like focus in her quest to exact revenge. In the end, she encounters a temptation to abandon her goal. I found myself expecting her to throw in the towel—a convention well-established in the movies that would have represented a serious character breach. When Tarantino had her shake it off without even deigning to mention the temptation, it made perfect sense and yet it represented a bold, wonderful move.
Many have questioned the appropriateness of revenge as a theme for a movie. I think revenge is an entirely justifiable pursuit given the proper context. Being shot and then put into a coma at your wedding ceremony by your former colleagues and subsequently losing the unborn child you were carrying would qualify as a fitting context. The fact that she was an assassin is troubling, but she was a repentant one. She did not deserve what happened to her and rightfully sought justice.
To be perfectly fair, there is an significant amount of gore, profanity, and violence in these movies. They are appropriate given the genre, the characters, and the plot. Unfortunately, they delay the day that I might share these great movies with my daughters by many, many years. Adults should not have too great a task overlooking the graphic nature of the film so long as they remember that the assassin’s life is gritty and rife with violence.