I’ve always tried to think of the “Kill Bill” franchise as one film, since that was the way it was originally shot, and also because its a fun way to excuse myself over debates of which volume is better (the first, by far). Watching them back-to-back though is not as joyous and complete of a movie going exercise that one might hope.
You know the drill. Uma Thurman is a pregnant, ruthless former assassin by the name of Beatrix Kiddo. Her black-and-white wedding rehearsal gets crashed by Bill (David Carradine) and his posse of assassins, played by Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Vivica A. Fox and Daryl Hannah. Beatrix is in a coma, loses her baby, wakes up and vows revenge on all who have wronged her.
The first film is exotic and experimental, aimed not to give us the concrete backstory of Beatrix Kiddo, but to build up her and the “Kill Bill” mythology. Beatrix corrects the misconception that it wasn’t her wedding where everyone was murdered, it was her wedding rehearsal. At no point is it ever fully stated that Beatrix’s baby died or was killed, it’s just an assumption we make. Even the Crazy 88 didn’t actually have 88 members, as Bill would later state in the second volume. We jump between time periods, criss-cross between live action and anime, and even have entire shots in single hues or silhouettes.
But it never feels like too much. It never feels like the film isn’t giving us its full undivided attention, its loose mythology allowing for ample weaves of storytelling success. We’re here to have fun in “Kill Bill,” knowing that we might not be able to explore the furthest reaches of its universe, but we’re happy to dance around on its blood-soaked stage for 112 minutes.
That sense of fun and wonder unravels with the second movie. People have noted that the differing tones between the two movies is because Volume 1 is an Eastern, while Volume 2 is a Western. That’s true, and westerns in general are a slower burn than samurai revenge flicks. But the second volume stumbles by trying to fill in the holes we never wanted filled from the first. We don’t really want to know how Daryl Hannah’s character lost her eye, imagining how it could have happened is far more rewarding. We don’t need to know the specific instance and moment when Beatrix decided to bail on Bill, her unborn child speaks more than enough words.
But giving us these answers takes us out of the movie. It’s an especially egregious movie considering that the joy one gets from watching westerns are based on that “west” being too large and too wild for one story to conquer. It even makes its worthwhile questions seem less fulfilling. The fact that Budd kept his Hanzo sword but lied about it suggests he is nostalgic about his former life, but we’re left with no time to ruminate. Meeting the kung fu master that taught Beatrix is exciting and silly, and expands the universe that much more. But then finding out that the same master taught Daryl Hannah’s character immediately contracts that universe. Tarantino spends so much time trying to bury answers into the empty graves of his first film.
As separate, independent stories, Volume 1 and Volume 2 are exemplary movies, carefully crafted with a loving cinematic hand. Taken together, they’re a mishmash of genres and poorly constructed themes. As the opening Klignon proverb of Volume 1 suggests, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” “Kill Bill” is a dish best served a la carte.