So the splitting up of "Kill Bill" into two separate films may have started as purely a marketing idea, but the result is something surprising. 'Volume II' is so startlingly different from 'Volume I' it takes a little getting used to, but once you do you'll find a far deeper, richer and ultimately more satisfying film than V1 and overall one of those films which improves the saga as a whole. The first film though superb, was still a hyperkinetic hodge podge of action sequences, relying on over the top violent humour, a superb soundtrack and cultural references to boot. If it was a film entirely about style, V2 is purely about substance.
The second movie's action is limited to 2-3 fights, the rest are long conversations and introspection. It is a far bleaker, more serious and dry affair - but also a more fascinating character study. Instead of homages to chop-suey martial art flicks of old, this is much more a bow to the hat of Sergio Leone and the western genre. There's no upfront stylish brashness here, rather a well-worn, world-weary sense of inevitability. As a result the audience of this film will skew far older, whilst younger viewers who loved the first one may not look too kindly on this.
Everything in the film, aside from maybe the soundtrack which is still strong but not as catchy, rings better. Like the first, the story is split up into five disjointed different sequences with a much more even tone overall than last time, although its far from faultless. After a rather beautifully done segment about what happened before the chapel massacre, we're thrust into Budd's story. This is the weakest segment of the film as the character, a rather lazy layabout version of his brother, isn't particularly interesting although he has one or two fun scenes and Madsen does well with his work . The story picks up though and ends in a quite shocking and disturbing scene that any claustrophobe will get the willies over.
The next two sequences are perfect and in them we learn about how Uma got trained by Pei Mei, a white haired kung fu master whose ridiculous appearance hides his dark and disciplined mind. Congrats should go to Gordon Liu and QT for creating such a unique 'sensei' style character which both emulates and avoids the cliches. Then comes the big action piece of the film, the Bride-Elle fight. Not only does Hannah get to deliver some great fun dialogue with a cool sense of style, but the close-quarters fight between the two in Bud's trailer has to go down as one of the great one-on-one fight scenes in cinema in a long time. It's clever, intense, well-edited and ends so perfectly it's satisfying all on its own.
The longest segment is of course Bill. Here the film is somewhat at odds with itself. The segment starts with a 10-15 minute scene of her hunting down Bill via an old contact of his. The scene is pure filler, doesn't add anything to the story and isn't really particularly interesting. Most of the Bill segment consists of the pair chatting, but whether it be Bill delivering an interesting diatribe about Superman admittedly or Uma finally reuniting with her daughter, it's excellent and ends with a far more satisfying sense of completion (look out for a hilarious flashback involving an Asian assassin and a hotel room).
The film reclaims the careers of Carradine and Hannah, both delivering their finest work probably ever with rich characters who, especially in Bill's case, aren't simple villains but rather fully fleshed out beings. Thurman finally gets to shine with more emotion and exploration of why she's seeking revenge on Bill, but also helps you realise a little bit about what these two shared. Thurman puts it all out there and gives it her best - it's truly outstanding stuff.
The only faults here lie in the editing. At 136 minutes its a long movie that could've cut out about 20 minutes or so in the early parts of the Budd and Bill sequences to make it a leaner, meaner picture without losing any of its depth. Otherwise it's pretty much a classic, QT's best aside from "Pulp Fiction". It's a mature movie that you could watch over and over and find new meaning in every time you see it. It's rare that you'll find a film designed purely as a crowd pleaser to be so rich and textured, but when it does come along though - you have to enjoy it.