I think the reason I’ve not gone back to this film as much as the first one is that as a pair they’re so uneven. The first film is front-loaded with all the action, and then all the exposition and character development ends up crammed into the second film. It makes for a strange double-feature.
We catch up with Uma Thurman’s Bride as she’s driving down a desert road. She delivers a monologue straight to camera:
Looked dead, didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t. But it wasn’t from lack of trying, I can tell you that. Actually, Bill’s last bullet put me in a coma – a coma I was to lie in for four years. When I woke up, I went on what the movie advertisements refer to as “a roaring rampage of revenge.” I roared, and I rampaged, and I got bloody satisfaction. I’ve killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point, but I’ve only one more. The last one. The one I’m driving to right now. The only one left. And when I arrive at my destination, I am gonna kill Bill.
We open in the Two Pines wedding chapel. We’ve seen this location before, in the black and white flashback sequences of Vol. 1, but here we get to see the whole thing play out. There’s a wonderful Orson Welles-worthy crane shot towards the end of sequence, where the camera drifts back through the aisle, out of the doors as we see Bill’s assassins walk into the chapel, ending with an aerial shot as the gunfire starts. It’s probably my favourite shot of the film; stellar filmmaking.
The intertextuality and references to Tarantino’s earlier works keep on coming, with a short but memorable cameo by Tarantino-regular Samuel L. Jackson. Moments later, we’re introduced to David Carradine’s Bill, the Caine of Kung Fu that Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction aspired to be at the close of that film.
A few scenes later, at the trailer of Michael Madsen’s Budd – which pre-dates Brad Pitt’s set-up in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – Budd captures the Bride, who has been waiting to kill him. Budd calls Darryl Hannah’s Elle Driver and says “I just caught me the cowgirl”. The line immediately echoes a similar scene in Pulp Fiction, where the pawn-shop owner Maynard captures a bloodied Butch and Marsellus (Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames): “Zed? It’s Maynard. The spider just caught a coupl’a flies.” RZA’s underscoring with the melody line from Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) over this scene is very nice, and probably his finest moment in terms of original composition. Much later, at the close of the film, Bill describes the Bride as a ‘natural born killer’, and if that isn’t a reference to an earlier Tarantino script, then I don’t know what is.
It’s not all great though. Michael Madsen’s conversation with his strip-club owner boss is the very definition of filler. It doesn’t go anywhere, and his subsequent character development belies the fact that he probably wouldn’t put up with somebody so annoying and unthreatening.
My other major gripe is the use of Malcolm McLaren’s About Her – a rewrite of the Zombies’ She’s Not There. It’s a nice track from McLaren’s 2005 album Tranquilize, and uses a Bessie Smith sample (‘My man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea’) similar to how Moby deployed old-timey samples on 1999’s Play, but the prominence of those lyrics – ‘Well nobody told me about her’ – to soundtrack the moment the Bride is reunited with her daughter is just awful. Shoehorning the lyrics of a pop song to lazily describe the events in a film is something a hack director would do. Who’s responsible for this choice of song? Tarantino or RZA? The rest of the soundtrack is amazing, and what you’d expect from a Tarantino film, but this one song is definitely its weakest point.
The buried alive / grave sequence is absolutely horrible, particularly so if you don’t like enclosed spaces. It gets me in the same way as a similar scene in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The shot of the Bride walking across the road into the diner is a nice little capper. A lesser director would have played the shot more for laughs – particularly as she’s walking out of a cemetery looking like that – but Tarantino gives us just the right amount of levity, without breaking the sombre tone of the film.
The standout scene of the film though is the trailer fight between the Bride and Elle Driver. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten about this. It’s the best close-quarters fight this side of a Bond film (see From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, SPECTRE), and manages to tread the line between serious and hilarious, influencing a similar scene in Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher.
Hit: Goodnight Moon – Shivaree
Hidden Gem: Summertime Killer – Luis Bacalov