In Kill Bill Vol. 1 she was the Bride, she was Black Mamba. In Kill Bill Vol 2, the real name of Uma Thurman's sword-wielding heroine is finally revealed: Beatrix Kiddo.
Sadly, this is the greatest revelation Tarantino has to offer in the second half of his self-indulgent two-part movie. As highly anticipated films go, this is one helluva disappointment. But perhaps it was always going to be so - after all, the weight of expectation must have been heavy on Tarantino, the epitome of 1990s cool. As for the splitting of the film, holding off the release of Volume 2 to cash in on DVD sales of Volume 1, well Miramax's crude commercial ploy doesn't help matters. Editing the "grindhouse" megamix instead into one movie might have.
Tarantino fills in more of the story of The Bride, so brutally shot in the head by her former mentor and lover Bill (Carradine) while rehearsing her wedding. She still has a few more traitorous former comrades on her revenge list: Bill's brother Budd (Madsen), Elle Driver (Hannah), and of course Bill. Budd is first up. But despite being a deadbeat living in a trailer, he isn't going to be easy to put down - especially when Kiddo's fury makes her rash. The result? Well, suffice to say Budd has a very nasty fate planned for her, a "Texas funeral".
We move onto the film's most enjoyable chapter: Kiddo's training at the hands of the cruel, ancient Pai Mei (veteran Shaw Brothers actor Liu).
Pai Mei is fun, a master who is both fearsome and comic. Pai Mei bullies and brutalises Kiddo, pushing her. But he's also a humourous character - replete with huge white eyebrows and a long beard that he strokes and flicks. Pai Mei is something of a caricature, but he's one of the film's better elements. He's certainly a lot more viable than the legendary Bill, who, portrayed by Carradine doesn't come across as a formidable, wise figure, but more an oddly camp codger who manages to sound both gravel-voiced and lispy.
Madsen's Budd is thankfully a more solid presence. A washed-up tough guy, he's philosophical about his circumstances and Kiddo's vendetta: "That woman deserves her revenge, and we deserve to die... Then again, so does she." He's a career killer hiding away from the horror of his own life, getting by with booze and isolation. Madsen makes him so sympathetic that his abject cruelty towards Kiddo is made more shocking. What he does is genuinely nasty.
Such brutality enlivens proceedings. Kill Bill Vol 1 was energised by its incessant fighting, blood-letting and inventively choreographed martial arts violence. If it was his "Eastern", Vol 2 is his "Western" - Budd is the retired gunslinger forced back into violence for example. It doesn't really work though, despite Tarantino hammering his intentions home with blasts of Tex-Mex trumpets and strings. He may have intended something elegiac, but the result is frankly dull and anticlimactic after the adrenaline of Vol 1.
There aren't enough fights. The only sequence that really combines lively nastiness with energetic martial arts is Kiddo's showdown with Elle Driver, another former student of Pai Wei. Two Hatori Hanzo swords come into play, as do various objects in Budd's trailer, as the two wildcats go at it, trashing the place and each other. "Baby, you don't have a future," Kiddo coldly tells her before unleashing another volley of blows.
If only Tarantino had stayed focused on this kind of thing. Sadly, he seems to have felt the need to muck about (aspect ratios change, colour goes to black and white and back again) and add some of his famed pop culture dialogue. Sadly, the latter is largely hokey. Bill gives an atrocious speech about Superman. It's artless, questionable in terms of its interpretation of superhero mythology, contrived and, worst of all, Carradine delivers it in a style worryingly reminiscent of Tarantino's own misguided acting forays. It's also further evidence of the significance of Roger Avary's contribution to the scripts of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Either that or QT's really lost his touch during the years of living off his profits.