Quentin Tarantino is widely regarded as one of today’s best filmmakers. While he hasn’t tackled traditional horror, his genre-bending films tend to have no shortage of blood and carnage. Of all his movies, his double-bill Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 easily tout the highest body counts. Seen as one singular movie, the story was broken up into 2 films with both garnering critical and commercial success. However, over time Kill Bill Vol. 2 has slid towards the bottom of Tarantino ranking lists, often criticizing the film for its longer runtime, reduced action, and slower pace. Unfair considering each film serves different purpose, and if not for Vol. 2, Kill Bill wouldn’t be the perfect revenge thriller it is.
In celebration of Kill Bill Vol. 2’s 15th birthday, I’m here to remind you why it’s just as awesome as Vol. 1 if not better!
The Whole Bloody Affair
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 are 2 parts to the one large story. They were written and produced simultaneously and intended to be seen as a single feature, but due to a 4+ hour runtime it was split into two films. Now, I won’t disagree that viewing the films together (later released as Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair) makes them feel a little more balanced but it doesn’t diminish the films as two separate entities, or necessarily make one better than the other because they are” the same film”. The two films are distinct in what aspect of the story they are telling: Vol. 1 is about action, Vol. 2 is about consequence.
In Kill Bill Vol. 1, we are introduced to the world and our protagonist through immersion. We’re dropped into the narrative, experiencing the events of the film through The Bride’s eyes and exposed to the violent nature of her world. So naturally, the first film flows a bit more kinetically and is the more fun watch of the two. Plus, with Tarantino’s non-linear storytelling, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is basically just the 2nd act of the story as a whole. And by nature, the 2nd act of any movie tends to be the most exciting and entertaining.
“Vol. 1 is about action, Vol. 2 is about consequence.”
Where Kill Bill Vol. 2 excels is making you feel the weight of The Bride’s actions in Vol. 1 as we learn her motivations and back story. While in Vol. 1 we’re riding along with Beatrix Kiddo, Vol. 2 is where we get to sit back and actually be the audience. We’re taken back to what would normally be the first act of a movie to see her training, her relationship with Bill, and the details of her tragic wedding day. Vol. 2 functions more as a traditional western, focusing on the sharp dialogue and atmosphere with sudden bursts of violence.
Watching Kill Bill Vol. 2 is like watching an stage play, with the verbal sparring between characters being 3x more intense than any sword fight from the previous film. Kill Bill Vol. 2 is an exercise in restraint. You wait for any conversation to turn into a bloodbath as we’ve been trained to expect from the Vol. 1. This excruciating anticipation is maintained through the whole film all the way until the final showdown between Beatrix and Bill. The thing with Kill Bill Vol. 2 is you get the emotional impact you don’t get in Vol. 1, which in turn enhances both films and more importantly, the characters.
The biggest strength of Kill Bill Vol. 2 is the focus on the characters. Obviously, we get to learn more about Beatrix Kiddo: where her life was heading, her training, her relationship with Bill, and much more as we finally get to the bottom of our heroine’s revenge motivations. The backbone of a revenge flick is giving the audience a good reason to root for the protagonist. Both films are a tad morally ambiguous, a Tarantino trademark, even when it comes to The Bride. A recurring theme throughout the film is characters getting what they deserve. Though what happens to The Bride is horrific, does she deserve revenge after all she has done in her life? This is made more clear in Vol. 2 as we learn the extent of Bill’s manipulation of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
While on the subject, let’s talk about the villains who also get a larger spotlight in Kill Bill Vol. 2. With the films splitting in two, we see The Bride go for 2 Deadly Viper assassins in each film, not counting Bill. In Vol. 1, we see her go after the ones know as Copperhead and Cottonmouth. While her first target O-Ren leads to probably the most iconic moments for the film, her confrontation with Vernita Green leaves a lot to be desired aside from foreshadowing The Bride’s daughter for the second film. Here in Vol. 2, we get more intricate and visceral encounters with the other members of the assassination squad. Not only does Michael Madsen give one of his better performances, Bud actually almost gets the best of Kiddo resulting her live burial.
Tarantino, the genius he is, uses this situation as a great way for exposition giving us background on The Bride while watching her battle for survival. In my opinion, Uma Thurman in the coffin is her best acting between the two films. And when it comes to the trailer fight with California Mountain Snake, what makes their duel interesting is the physical likeliness between Elle and Beatrix; giving us the classic “hero vs the worst version of themselves”. Much like the film itself compared to Vol. 1, their fight is much more contained. Her encounters in Vol. 2 are more raw and visceral, containing more emotional impact than the killing of nameless foes in big action set pieces.
Kill Bill Vol. 2 had the enormous task of delivering on the titular character, Bill. The whole first film circulates around the mystery of Bill. Who is he? Can he really be that evil? Will he get his comeuppance? The film answers all these questions and then some, peeling back the layers behind Beatrix and Bill’s complicated relationship. At times he’s portrayed as sympathetic, often charming, and possibly even actually caring for The Bride. These qualities paired with his vile and manipulative nature (Codename: Snake Charmer) culminate in a subtly dazzling performance by David Carradine.
Everything in Kill Bill Vol. 2 rested on the showdown between Beatrix and Bill sticking the landing. The third act is fantastic, as Beatrix’s morals and emotional core are tested with each reveal of information from Bill. As we’ve seen The Bride cut through everything in her path, Bill of course wouldn’t be a physical match but his words cut even deeper. In a subversion of spaghetti westerns, the final encounter isn’t big and epic. It’s slow, drawn out and to some, anti-climatic. But what it does is humanize these characters whose moral ambiguity we’ve been grappling with throughout both films. Beatrix kills Bill with the subdued Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique when she easily could have dismembered him for what he’s done to her, but goes the more subtle route. This movie wasn’t just about physical revenge, it was about revenge of the mind as well.
In the end, I prefer the more emotionally intense Kill Bill Vol. 2 over Vol. 1 for it’s character development and subdued brutality. Tarantino has never been known for his subtlety, but Kill Bill Vol. 2 is his greatest act of restraint. And in doing so, kind of perfected the revenge film. Obviously watch The Whole Bloody Affair version for the perfect revenge western saga, but the splitting of the film into works so well as the story is able to breath. Unfortunately, the splitting has led to unfair comparisons between the 2 films and the second tends to not get re-watched as often due to its length and pace. But I think genre fans should take a closer look at Vol. 2 which functions like an emotional psychological thriller: intense, gripping, and a satisfying conclusion to the ballad of Beatrix Kiddo.
“Vol. 2 are more raw and visceral, containing more emotional impact than the killing of nameless foes”