After the relentless, bloody revenge fueled action of Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2 sees Quentin Tarantino cleverly muddying the moral waters and playing with audience expectation. Rather than attempt to top the dynamic Tea House sequence from the first installment, an impossible feat, he opted to ground the second volume in character and story, resulting in a slow burn that never truly ignites. Robert Richardson’s splendid cinematography takes on an earthier, less bombastic hue, matching the desert setting and spaghetti western vibe. Vol. 2 eschews frenetic energy and pace in favor of slow, methodical scenes lifted along by Tarantino’s dialogue and two career-best performances from Uma Thurman and David Carradine.
In other words, things quiet down. The Bride is still on her bloody quest for revenge, but in Vol. 2 every kill is personal. There are no dispensable Crazy 88 goons to be colorfully dispatched. Only Budd (Michael Madsen in his best role), Elle (Daryl Hannah), and Bill (Carradine) remain. In comes the aforementioned murkiness that muddies the waters of Vol. 1‘s revenge rampage. Tarantino plays with expectation and revealed information in such a way that, by withholding the characterization of Bill in Vol. 1, he turns that film into a gleeful romp of gory and righteous revenge. The subsequent humanization and pathos developed for Bill throughout Vol. 2 calls into question just how righteous The Bride’s actions are. If every good revenge movie is ultimately about its destructiveness, Kill Bill goes about it in a unique way, presenting the audience with the cathartic, satisfying vengeance, and then developing the antagonists after rather than before.
As such, Vol. 2 is back to the talky Tarantino of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, although its sole action set piece is intense, claustrophobic, and appropriately brutal. Carradine’s soft purring voice turns Bill into a human, Thurman is given triple the big emotional moments, and she nails them all. That said, it does get a bit indulgent at times. I admire and respect Tarantino’s dedication to character, but Vol. 2 has its fair share of fat (just to be clear, I am not referring to Michael Parks’ perfect cameo scene). Regardless, like its predecessor, its final act is phenomenal, powerful cinema, although in an entirely different way, consisting primarily of The Bride and Bill simply talking, but Tarantino crafts the scenes with such emotional tension and luring danger that they hit the right notes, resulting in a fitting climax for the 4-hour saga, culminating in layers of conflicting emotions and a final, beautifully earned moment that may be the most heartfelt shot of Tarantino’s career.