Will Bill Kill?

Usually, a second installment in a film series is mere catering to fans of the original hungry for more of the same. Those who didn’t like the first go-round should generally be cautioned to not bother with a second helping. That’s common sense, really, but this is Quentin Tarantino we’re talking about, so you can leave your common sense at home. It won’t help you here.

“Kill Bill Vol. 2” (Miramax) has so little in common with the first volume that you could easily hate 1 and love 2 or vice versa, or hate both, or just bow down before Tarantino and take his twisted, fractured opus as it is, taking a sort of perverse satisfaction in watching a man deconstruct his fantasies with a camera.

“Volume 2” concludes the tale of bloody vengeance begun in last year’s “Volume 1.” The Bride (Uma Thurman) finishes off the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Budd (Michael Madsen), her former partners-in-crime who left her for dead. That’s where the similarities end; in terms of visuals, characters, plot and tone, this is a completely different movie.

Yes, the movie still revolves around Uma dicing people up to make amends for her suffering, but the way this is done the second time out couldn’t be more different. To oversimplify, “Volume 1” is a Japanese Yakuza film, filled with carefully choreographed, lovingly stylized violence, seemingly hell-bent on making floating limbs beautiful. It presented one heroine set against a world of corruption, filled to the brim with nameless adversaries against whom all victory was temporary. The Bride was a hero for whom there could be no rest, driven onward by vengeance and imbued with remarkable skill.

“Volume 2” is a spaghetti western, matching our heroine – now flawed and vulnerable for some reason – one on one with specific villains who embody evil and pain for her. With their deaths, she finds rest. Uma still looks badass, but it feels like we’re dealing with a completely different character. With almost none of the surviving cast of “Volume 1” making an appearance, there’s little to remind you of what came before.

Whereas “Volume 1” gave you flash and sizzle and all the dismemberment you could handle, “Volume 2” is decidedly character driven, with only two fight sequences but a whole lot more of Tarantino’s famously snarky dialogue. For some, this is an even trade; for others, it’ll be a disappointment. In a way, it feels like Tarantino is asking viewers what they like more about his films, the violence or the jokes.

Inevitably, two things will be said about this film. One will be the claim that Tarantino “sold out” and made a less violent film this time around, after so much was made of the shocking fight scenes of “Volume 1.” The two halves were shot at the same time and split apart in editing; one just happens to contain more blood than the other. It’s true that the body count here stays in the single digits as opposed to the 80+ body bags of the first film, but that has to do with thematic consistency, not peer pressure. If you want limbs, watch “Volume 1”; if you want a story, watch “Volume 2.”

The second and more dangerous claim will be that this is in some way a striking, original, dynamic or highly artistic film. It’s not. Anyone under that impression needs to get to the video store now. Everything there is to like about either film is stolen wholesale from any number of sources. This is not a good film or a bad film; it’s a stylistic pastiche of every movie Tarantino’s ever loved. It’s a self-indulgent, trashy, pretentious, joyful, awe-inspiring “Where’s Waldo?” of film references. It’s not art. It’s tribute.

Ultimately, whether or not you’ll enjoy this film comes down to how willing you are to play along. Realize first that this is not your movie; this is Mr. Tarantino’s movie. He didn’t make it for you. He doesn’t give a damn if anyone likes it. All Tarantino did was find a way to sew all this madness together into a sort of lumbering Frankenstein’s Monster of a film. In this wondrous patchwork, Tarantino left nothing of his own, and a movie with so much blood has very little heart to drive it. If you can get past that, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. The execution of the forms in which Tarantino is working is flawless. The acting is a career highlight for everyone involved, for David Carradine (Bill) especially, and the film is simply gorgeous to behold. If that is enough for you, then “Kill Bill” is everything you’ve ever wanted.

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