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Killing Him Softly

 

Kill Bill: Volume 2

Quentin Tarantino, USA, 2004

Rating: 3.0

 

 

Posted: April 20, 2004

By Laurence Station, AKA Arthritic Anaconda & Clemenza, AKA Asthmatic Rattler

Editor's Note: Originally, I thought it'd be kind of cool to mirror the climactic titular showdown of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies by having B-movie maven Clemenza square off against more intellectual cineaste Laurence Station. Which of these wildly different perspectives would triumph? Does the resulting discussion offer an exciting battle of wits? Or, like Volume 2 itself, does it ultimately prove too polite, long-winded and pointless? You be the judge. -- Kevin Forest Moreau, Assassin-in-Chief, AKA Flexing Hammerhead

Station: So, Clemenza, the pupil now wishes to sit beside the master to discuss Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Volume 2, a continuation of last fall's initial volume which followed an assassin named the Bride (Uma Thurman) as she set about slaying the fellow assassins who had wronged her.

Clemenza: Excuse me? What's this pupil and master shit? Who are you supposed to be, Chow Yun-Fathead? We've done this before, remember? Jeepers Creepers 2 ringing any bells?

Station: So what was your general feeling regarding Volume 2, as the lights came up and you were escorted from the theater?

Clemenza: Okay, look, Volume I was an all-out assault on the senses: martial arts everywhere, unfettered violence -- a real roller-coaster ride. And now, this utter mess.

Station: Yes, this is definitely the more cerebral of the two films. To make a too-easy analogy, the mindless action of the first part is to you as the headier, better-versed fare of the second part is to me.

Clemenza: Here we go again, Station. After all this time, you still just don't get it. You can't make part of a film full of whacked-out action, entitle it Kill Bill (which I also have a huge problem with), throw in some zany cats called The Crazy 88s, and then just take your foot off the gas and coast for the second part. That's not cerebral, brother; it's just plain lazy.

Station: I agree that Kill Bill 2 lacks the sustained tension of the first half, and even though Tarantino does a nice job delving deeper into the characters (though nothing nearly as inventive as O-Ren Ishii's anime back-story), the overall pacing suffers as a result. Well then, what did you think was the strongest aspect, scene, or character in the film?

Clemenza: Yeah, that's it, jump ship, Station. I swear, when the "fop" makes a comeback, you'll be way ahead of the game. The strongest character was definitely Bill. David Carradine does an excellent job as a man who appears to be at peace with the world, yet who can turn to lethal violence at the drop of a hat. When he's not on-screen, the film suffers. I don't think he's gonna get the credit he deserves for this role.

Station: Really? Carradine did solid work, but I found his brother Budd far more fascinating. Michael Madsen thoroughly inhabits a character who's run out of options in life. When you're reduced to cleaning toilets at a bottom-feeder strip joint, things can't get much worse -- as I'm sure you can attest, Clemenza. Budd essentially doesn't care whether he lives or dies. Madsen is pathetic, cagey, and resigned. It's a masterful performance. Okay, so what about the best action sequence?

Clemenza: Here's where the wheels come off, homey. The question should be: "What should have been the best action sequence?" But we'll get to that later. I'd have to say the best was the vicious grappling between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah. As fight scenes go, it was magnificently brutal, far removed from the over-the-top (now there's a film we should be discussing) comic-book action of the first film. Grittier, dirtier, and darker.

Station: Hmmm. Again, I'm forced to agree. The showdown between Thurman's Black Mamba and Darryl Hannah's California Mountain Snake was the highlight, as far as adrenaline-fueled action sequences go. And you're right: Tarantino went more for realistic violence, similar to his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, than for the excessively cartoonish gore-fest of the first volume. Why, in your opinion? Was it because he wanted this volume to be taken more seriously than the first, or was it simply another one of his stylistic tributes?

Clemenza: Good reference to Reservoir Dogs. That's exactly what comes to mind. I think it bears his "stamp," if you will, and it had to find a way into the film. But it should serve as a segue to the mother of all battles: The final showdown with Bill. This is where Tarantino drops the ball, big time. Again, you can't make the first half of the film the way it was made, and then appeal for this one to be taken "more seriously." That ain't an option here. Tarantino steps way outside the genre bounds firmly established in Volume 1, and though some people may find that cool and daring, I thought it sucked. It's like at the end of Aliens, if Sigourney Weaver meets the monstrous mother alien and easily defeats her, what's the point? It cheapens the entire experience.

Station: True. Not only is the showdown with Bill anticlimactic, but the crucial aspect of that showdown is baldly telegraphed early on in the film. I'm not sure if Tarantino simply ran out of ideas at this point, or if he thought it would be hip to have Bill polished off (by the way, we're not giving anything away here folks: note the title) in such an incredibly lame manner.

Which brings us back to your question: What should have been the best action sequence?

Clemenza: Damn, Station! What's the title of the film? Hurt Bill? Aggravate Bill? It Doesn't Look Good For Bill? NO! It's Kill Bill! And while he certainly gets "killed," he might as well have choked on a pretzel or slipped in the tub. How in the hell can you make a film called Kill Bill, envelop it in a bloody gore-fest, and then decide at the last minute you're gonna explore the more "human" side of the characters? The showdown with Bill should have been the swordfight to end all swordfights. Limbs flying, the glimmer of Hattori steel shimmering in the moonlight as it cleaves Bill in twain. The whole film focuses on ultra-freaking-sweet Samurai swords, and when the time comes... we get this? I understand what Tarantino was trying to do, but in the end, it's a cop out, a failure to honor the genres he claims to be paying homage to.

Station: A failure, young grasshopper? No. I feel there's something deeper at play here -- an indication, perhaps, that Tarantino was trying to pull the ultimate bait-and-switch on his audience. Bill is set up to be this incredible badass; even as he approaches an age where social security checks start appearing in his mailbox every month, he's still considered this intimidating snake charmer, a seriously villainous figure. But what do we see when the Bride finally confronts him? A grandfatherly figure horsing around with a child. Not exactly the menacing force we were led to believe. You have to ask yourself why, and the reason you come up with is that the like that introductory moment, the nature of Bill's ultimate demise (and no, we're not going to tell you what it is), Tarantino chose the anti-climax to subvert our expectations -- to one-up the audience, if you will. And it backfires.

Clemenza: Man, Station, Hollywood can feed you anything, and you'll always look for a higher meaning to prove that you didn't get reamed. I understand what he's going for; I just don't agree with it. I think he did it because he tried to cram about four different genres into one film. Endings are hard to write, except if you're coming up with one for that Vincenzo dude Moreau hired -- we all know he'll be selling Amway products in the near future. Hey, I understand that when you're spinning a tale like this one, it's hard to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. It's easy to cop out with warm and fuzzy ending and turn your back on the foundations of the film. I can't speak intelligently on "why" he did it, but it has all the makings of a film that just ran outta gas.

Station: Sorry, my Mafioso-rat-of-an-acquaintance, I can't buy into the "ran out of gas" theory. If anything, Tarantino suffers from too many ideas and not enough time or space to cram them all into. Hence, a three-hour plus revenge flick paying tribute to everything from the hyper-violence inherent to martial arts films to the raw urgency of French New Wave camera techniques. That's Tarantino's problem here. That, and that the film is just far too verbose for its own good. To put it in words you can understand: Like you, it doesn't know when to shut up. On that note: Final thoughts?

Clemenza: Well, at least I'm voicing an original thought, and not trying to rationalize my way out of being disappointed in a crappy ending. Here's my final thought: If you paid full price to see Volume 2, you got screwed. End of story. Save your money and rent a real action film that delivers on all levels, like Michael Mann's Heat. Or, better yet, take the budget route and borrow a copy of C.H.U.D. from a friend and buy a fifth of Jack. Now, that's entertainment.

Station: Wow. Perhaps you should just simmer down and go rent Over the Top. With Stallone, at least you'll know what you're getting into. Kill Bill 2, despite offering deeper character development with the usual high technical standards, ultimately proves too long-winded and self-consciously deceptive regarding its audience's expectations to rate as highly as the first volume. Thanks for stopping by, Clemenza. It's always a... well, an interesting experience.

Clemenza: Hey, you got a plasma TV in your office. Does Moreau know about this? I don't have no plasma TV! He told me it wasn't in the budget. How did you--

Station: (Ahem!) Hey, look! Haley's Comet!

Clemenza: What? Where?! Where?

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