Cycle of revenge continues in an amoral world of cartoon sadism and violence in “Kill Bill: Volume 2”

Quentin Tarantino, “Kill Bill: Volume 2” (2004)

The revenge odyssey of The Bride, whom we met in the first chapter of the “Kill Bill” movie series, concludes in this second film in which she seeks out the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and kills them. Initially the film recapitulates the massacre at the El Paso chapel in which The Bride (Uma Thurman) and her wedding party are rehearsing her wedding when they are rudely interrupted by The Bride’s former compadres in a blaze of gunfire. Four years later, having come out of a coma and sent two members of the Squad to a violent end, The Bride, now identified as Beatrix Kiddo, scouts out the trailer of third member Bud (Michael Madsen) who has fallen on hard times and spends his days in a delirious alcoholic haze. Bud has already been warned by Bill (David Carradine) of Kiddo’s approach and he shoots her point blank in the chest with rock salt. He phones the fourth squad member Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) and offers to sell to her Kiddo’s priceless Hattori Honzo sword for $1 million; Elle Driver demands that Kiddo be made to suffer an agonising death. After clinching the deal, Bud proceeds to bury Kiddo alive.

In an aside, years ago, Bill tells a young Kiddo of the legendary Shaolin monk / kung fu master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) and his specialty death blow known as the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique which he has never taught. Bill then sends Kiddo to Pai Mei to receive further martial arts training. Pai Mei treats Kiddo harshly and torments her relentlessly but eventually they gain one another’s respect. Remembering her training, Kiddo is able to break out of her prison and claw her way out of her grave.

In the morning she treks to Bud’s trailer where Elle Driver has already tricked Bud by burying a black mamba in the money for Kiddo’s sword. Bud dies an agonising death but before Driver can get away with the money and the sword, Kiddo ambushes her and they both fight aggressively hard. When Driver reveals that she poisoned Pai Mei in retribution for plucking out her eye, Kiddo exacts her vengeance against the other woman. Kiddo then continues on her quest to find Bill and retrieve her four-year-old daughter.

More leisurely paced than Volume 1, this sequel gives viewers a little more insight (but not very much so) into the characters of Kiddo and Bill, their relationship to each other, and their motivations for doing what they did in the past and what they are doing in the present. That Kiddo decided to give up a life of killing when she discovered her pregnancy is rational enough but viewers do not learn why she may have wanted to become pregnant in the first place: perhaps she was already disenchanted with her old life of fighting and killing. Bill’s own motives for wanting to kill Kiddo in the first place seem odd and implausible, in light of the fact that he later decided to raise her daughter. We never learn why Elle Driver dislikes Kiddo so vehemently in the first place and her behaviour in the second film seems at odds with her actions in the first film: why does she think Bud’s disposal of Kiddo is grubby when her own poisoning attempt was just as low?

The acting is good if not particularly outstanding though Carradine does good work as the world-weary Bill who knows his time on Planet Earth is quickly coming to an end, and Thurman does well as a character who still loves Bill as much as she hates him for what he has done to her. Hannah revels in her bad-girl character but for all her theatrics she gets much less air time than she deserves. The cast moves in a porno-cartoon world inspired very much by Sergio Leone’s spaghetti / paella Western films of lone avenger characters: an amoral world of outlandish violence and hyper-sadism in which a pathetic down-at-heel male characters who tortures a woman, threatens to blind her and then bury her eventually gets his comeuppance from another woman, and a psychopathic one at that, but in a way that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The movie soundtrack adds another layer of desert Western flavour but is not very remarkable.

The most interesting part of the film is the dialogue between Bill and Kiddo in which they are discussing superheroes and Bill voices his opinion that just as Superman always remains Superman and Clark Kent is simply his disguise, so people’s essential natures remain the same no matter that they may change roles. This is to suggest that Kiddo will always remain a killer even if she becomes something else. The worldview expressed here may be fatalistic and determinist, implying that whenever crunch-time comes, Kiddo will always revert to being a cold-blooded assassin and murderer.

While vengeance may taste quite sweet, the overriding theme is that actions always have consequences, and those consequences not only will be excessive in proportion to the original actions but themselves will generate further consequences that are even more excessive to the point where the cycle of vengeance becomes banal and diminishes the humanity of the people caught up in it. Kiddo may have her moment of triumph but one day the daughter of Vernita Green will seek her out to avenge her mother’s death. How and where this cycle of revenge and retribution will end, and what chaos and destruction it eventually leads to, is something Tarantino has yet to consider.