Time Has Only Been Kind to Quentin Tarantino’s Stylish, Surprisingly Moving Sequel

Kill Bill Vol. 2 was not the follow-up fans expected. But 20 years later, it has aged gracefully.

Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill: Volume 2'
Miramax Films
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When most people talk about Quentin Tarantino, they usually focus on either his skills as a visual stylist or his ability to pen memorable dialogue. It's not hard to see why, given the hyperviolent, flashy movies that he's made over the course of his career. However, what some fans of his work forget to mention is how much he loves his characters. One could even argue that there's no filmmaker alive right now who is as invested in the characters he creates as Tarantino.

Nowhere is that clearer than in Kill Bill: Volume 2. The widely beloved sequel to 2003's Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a surprisingly contemplative film. It approaches almost every aspect of its story differently than the movie that came before it and, consequently, emerges as a fascinating counter to it. Both movies have only grown more popular and respected over the years, but this week marks the 20th anniversary of Kill Bill: Volume 2, which means now is as good a time as any to look at how cleverly and effectively the film subverts its viewers' expectations.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 is an explosion of pure, unadulterated style. It's a sword-slashing, limb-chopping parade of violence that has little to no time for introspection or emotion. All it wants to do is get your adrenaline pumping, and it does that exceptionally well. Kill Bill: Volume 2 is, conversely, a much tamer film than Volume 1. That may sound like a strange thing to say about a film in which two women get into a vicious swordfight in a dirty trailer, but it's not inaccurate.

Compared to its predecessor, Kill Bill: Volume 2 has very few action sequences. The Bride's (Uma Thurman) attack on Budd (Michael Madsen) is, for instance, cut short by a shotgun blast of rock salt, and Budd later dies not at the end of a long fight scene — but due to a surprise snake attack. The Bride's showdown with Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in Budd's trailer and the flashback to her training sessions with Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) are the only scenes in Volume 2 that come close to matching the intricately choreographed violence of Volume 1.

Even when it's leaning all the way into its action elements, though, Volume 2 notably adopts a messier and sweatier approach than the film that preceded it. That's certainly true of the Bride's fight with Elle, which is untidier than fans of Volume 1 likely expected it to be, and utterly absent of the same, purposefully cartoonish eruptions of blood that occur throughout that 2003 blockbuster. Fortunately, the sloppiness of the Bride and Elle's battle isn't just intentional, but it's in keeping with Kill Bill: Volume 2’s more grounded style.

The sequel begins exactly where its predecessor does, with the Deadly Viper assassination squad's vicious attack at the Bride's wedding. Rather than depict the carnage caused by Bill (David Carradine) and co. on that day, though, Kill Bill: Volume 2's opening mostly focuses on a conversation between the Bride and him. The scene purposefully doesn't show the massacre that unfolded shortly after — dedicating more of its time and effort to instead exploring Bill and the Bride's relationship in a way that Kill Bill: Volume 1 never does. The film continues to do that throughout its runtime, including in a flashback that shows Bill preparing her for her training with Pai Mei.

Kill Bill: Volume 2 remains a fascinating follow-up to the stylish gorefest that came before it.

Miramax Films

Kill Bill: Volume 2's quieter, more emotional approach to its story continues all the way through its climax, which sees Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo reunited at long last with both Bill and their young daughter, B.B. (Perla Haney-Jardine). Bill and Beatrix's final confrontation is slow and steeped in dread. It takes its time, giving Thurman's heroine a chance to explain why she left Bill in the first place, and Carradine's antagonist a moment to reveal why he reacted to their breakup so violently. Then, in one of the most beautifully subversive moments of Tarantino's entire career, Bill and Beatrix's fight lasts only a few seconds and ends with almost no bloodshed.

It's a surprisingly understated and melancholic finale that both stands in stark contrast to the Crazy 88 massacre that caps off Kill Bill: Volume 1, and pays off Volume 2's greater focus on the emotionally complicated history of its two leads' relationship. Twenty years later, Tarantino's decision to adopt such a different tone, style, and pace for Kill Bill: Volume 2 just seems even more impressive now than it did in 2004. He followed up his most superficial film with a sequel that is darker, quieter, and far more emotionally profound than what came before it.

In doing so, he ensured that what might have seemed at first like nothing more than a stylish revenge story truly could stand the test of time.

Kill Bill: Volume 2 is streaming now on Netflix.

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