"Kill Bill Vol. 2" is better than "Kill Bill Vol.1." Way better. Way, way better. I'll tell you why.
1. Unlike "Vol. 1," "Vol. 2" has a story.
To all the Quentin Tarantino fans, let's be honest: For all the flashiness "Vol. 1" laid out (and there was a lot of flashiness on display), it was barely a movie. It was two hours of Tarantino getting in touch with his beloved trash-movie influences (kung fu flicks, cheap exploitation actioners, etc.).
But there wasn't much of a story -- just something about a beautiful killer known as the Bride (Uma Thurman) on a rampage, hunting down her former boss (David Carradine) and co-workers, who wiped out her wedding party and put a slug in her head.
"Vol. 2" is more of a fleshed-out, character-driven film. The Bride (who we learn halfway through has a name, but it's no big whoop) is still on the warpath, with her sights on three more people: Bill, his estranged brother Budd (Michael Madsen) and one-eyed shrew Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah).
Tarantino, on a Western kick, emulates not only the vast landscape visions of John Ford and Sergio Leone but the drama and emotion many of their movies had.
Tarantino does something in "Vol. 2" that makes the bloody, bitter nonsense of "Vol. 1" almost forgivable: He gives the story an admirable soulfulness.
2. There's dialogue.
You may remember that people barely spoke in the first film. And when they did, they didn't say anything worth remembering. In "Vol. 2," people talk -- a lot, unloading the pop culture-drenched dialogue that has become a Tarantino staple.
3. The violence is down to a few cuts and bruises.
It's my great pleasure to report that you can watch this movie without dreading where the next disembodied head or arm is going to come from or wondering how long is it going to take before we see buckets of blood spurting.
Tarantino tones down the violence considerably. And what violence there is, Tarantino amps up in a humorous fashion, such as the no-holds-barred catfight between the Bride and Driver, during which they demolish a trailer.
4. He lets the actors act.
With the exception of Thurman, whom Tarantino has managed to cover every nook and cranny of with his lens in both movies, Tarantino never gave any of the actors in "Vol. 1" a chance to act. (Carradine was practically a disembodied voice.)
Tarantino was too busy seeing how much of a stylish splatterfest he could capture.
Since fewer characters appear in this volume, the story feels more intimate. They reveal more about themselves than expected -- and that gives the actors a lot more to work with. They all get their moments -- even "Vol. 1" bit players Gordon Liu and Michael Parks, who reappear as different characters, turn in memorable performances.
Surprisingly, the most moving performance comes from Carradine, who finally materializes as Bill and plays him as more of a scorned, sensitive sage than a savage psycho.
5. It feels like a real movie.
You don't have to know the music of Ennio Morricone (which Tarantino practically slathers all over the soundtrack) to know that "Vol. 2" is Tarantino's valentine to Westerns, just as "Vol. 1" was his valentine to Asian cinema.
But of all the movies Tarantino has made, you get the feeling he really wants folks to leave satisfied after seeing "Vol. 2." Characters are fully realized. Dialogue is memorable. An engrossing story is being told.
As much as I hate to admit this, since I'm still one of the few critics who wasn't all that impressed with the over-praised "Pulp Fiction," Quentin Tarantino got me on this one.
But I still haven't forgiven him for killing Vivica A. Fox so early in "Vol. 1." If he and I ever cross paths, we're going to have some words about that.
Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.