It was a risky move, but when Quentin Tarantino split his film Kill Bill into two movies he did the right thing. Not because audiences wouldn't be able to watch a four hour long movie, but because the two parts are distinctly different films. As where part one (reviewed here) is a "roaring rampage of revenge" to quote Volume 2's own description of its predecessor, the second half is more restrained, unfolding at its own pace. The first pays homage to the martial arts films of the 70s, while the second takes its inspiration from the westerns of the 60s. Still stylized and gorgeous, Volume 2 is a bit better than the first installment, though not by much. Both have been released on Blu-ray and they've never looked or sounded better. Two 'must-have' discs for any action film collection.
In the first installment viewers are introduced to The Bride (Uma Thurman.) During her wedding, when she's nearly full term on her pregnancy, a group of assassins barges in on the ceremony and kills everyone who is present: The groom, the minister, the guests, and even the organ player. The Bride herself, the reason for the attack, is beaten senseless and then shot in the head.
Only she doesn't die. She goes into a coma and four years later wakes up. Her last memories are of the wedding parting being slaughtered by Bill and his team of assassins. A team she was once part of. Filled with rage she makes a list of those that were responsible and starts to hunt them down.
Volume two starts off where the first one left off. The Bride gives a brief introduction that serves to bring viewers up to speed without boring those that recently saw the first part, and then the film gets rolling. Once again Tarantino plays with time, jumping forwards and backwards with ease but never confusing or muddling the plot.
This installment answers a lot of the questions raised in the first movie. Viewers finally discover what happened at The Bride's wedding (the wedding rehearsal actually) and, eventually, what she did to incur Bill's wrath. Her training with the white-haired martial arts master Pai Mei is shown, as well as the fate of her child. In between these revelations she hunts down the people who stole her life from her.
While not nearly as bloody or over the top as the Volume 1, this movie is just as engrossing, if not more so. The main problem with the first half of this two-part film was that it did have much substance. This half makes up for that by filling in the characters more fully. While the story started off with an explosion of violence, it ends with a more philosophical look at the world. It's like the film itself matured over its running time, from an angry young thing to a more thoughtful creature ready to meet the world on its own terms.
Once again the acting is outstanding. Though Uma Thurman's soliloquy at the beginning of the film feels a little forced, the rest of her performance is wonderful. She really makes her character seem real. From the way she kills without emotion to the scene where she's crying in the coffin and the part where she tells an assassin who has a bead on her that she's pregnant, Thurman makes The Bride seem tough as nails but also very vulnerable. The other standout is Michael Madsen who is magnificent as Budd, an ex-assassin who's now a bouncer in a titty-bar and lives in a dilapidated trailer. He's cold but pragmatic and makes his character just as creepy as the one he played in Reservoir Dogs.
It's clear that Tarantino wanted to pull the rug from under the viewer with this film. It often builds up to something and then switches gears in a masterful way. Have you ever been watching a movie and thought "I know what's going to happen for the rest of the film"? Well you'll say that in this movie, after all it's filled with foreshadowing, but you'll be wrong on a lot of the details. Like the first part, this is a movie for film fans, people who are tired of seeing the same story again and again. Tarantino tells a familiar story, but he does it with such flair and with so many small, unexpected twists that it will seem fresh again.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Like the first installment, the AVC MPEG-4 encoded 2.40:1 image looks simply wonderful. This is a very stylized film, with every attention paid to color and the various bright tones just pop off the screen. All of the colors are solid and very bright, and the blacks are likewise inky and deep. The level of detail is excellent with even the smallest background items having tight lines. Digitally the disc looks just as impressive with aliasing, posterization, and blocking being nonexistent. There is still a bit of digital noise in a few scenes, when The Bride is looking at the Texas desert during the rehearsal for example, but it's very mild. When all is said and done, this is a very impressive looking disc.
The audio track is just as impressive too. The disc comes with an uncompressed PCM track that is superb along with DD 5.1 tracks in English and French. The PCM track really puts the viewer in the middle of the film. During the fight scenes the sound of glass breaking and people screaming comes from all corners of the room. These noises have a great amount of directionality too. The effects are nicely panned from front to back and across the whole soundstage creating a very enveloping feeling. The background music, mostly made up of songs from other movies, has a great range and is clean and clear throughout the film. Like the video, this is a first rate presentation.
Alas, the only place that this disc falters, as the first one did, is with the extras. There's another behind-the-scenes docu (presented in 480 i/p) that's filled with clips from the movie and interviews with the stars and crew. It runs a just short of half an hour and while it wasn't bad, it wasn't exciting either. Aside from that there's a music video and a single deleted scene that's pretty disposable. It's too bad that Tarantino didn't beef up the extras on these blu-ray releases.
Tarantino took a gamble by first cutting Kill Bill in two and then by significantly changing the tone and style of the second half. His gamble paid off however, as Volume 2 plays out as a better film than Volume 1 in a lot of ways. No matter which half you prefer however, be sure to snag copies of the pair on Blu-ray. The sound and picture are fantastic. Both the film and the disc itself are highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not taken from the Blu-ray disc and is not necessarily representative of the image quality.