God bless Uma Thurman, but she’s been in some right rubbish in her time. From misfires like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996) and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), to outright dross like The Avengers (1998), Batman and Robin (1997) and Paycheck (2003), her career choices have never exactly been a mark of quality. She was good value in Pulp Fiction (1994), though; so much so that Tarantino went off and cooked up an epic in which she starts as the deadliest women in the world. So, is she up to it? To be honest, no. And when Tarantino’s at a point in his career when he might sensibly be diversifying and stretching himself, instead he’s indulging his whims and preaching to the converted.
Kill Bill 2 wins out over its predecessor because, whereas that was an entirely hollow, noisy exercise, the pace slows down here and we learn more about our protagonist. (For instance, the Bride’s real name is unveiled, to the deafening sound of shrugs.) There’s more effort made with characterisation all round. David Carradine, as the titular Bill, gets a hefty chuck of screen-time and lends such welcome weight to proceedings. But it all remains so strewn with wasted opportunities. The entire plot, after all, is encapsulated in the title, and all that remains is a string of pilfered set pieces and tangents. Thurman’s hardly a compelling screen presence, and Daryl Hannah’s underwhelming turn as an eyepatched villain seems to belong in a panto rather than a human drama. To be sure, the fight sequences are exceptional, but devoid of anything else behind them to engage with, they’re exactly like whizz-bang special effects in a forgettable summer blockbuster.
The conclusion of the story, when we finally arrive at it, involves some heavy-handed, unconvincing guff about women and parenthood. It feels more syrupy than a bad Disney, an eleventh-hour attempt to invest the whole flotilla of drop-kicks and frenzied editing with some meaning. Possibly, in one ninety minute blast, the glorious stylised vacuity of it all might have been exhilarating: at over four hours in total, it smacks of (cough) class A indulgence.
It’s all rather like a derivative, unimaginative cartoon, and the worry lingers that this should be the work of tenth-rate Tarantino plagiarists rather than the chinny cineaste himself. Back when Pulp Fiction was wowing all and sundry, the BBC’s Omnibus profiled Tarantino, then declaring a passion to extend his range, rather than be forever known as – quote – ‘the gun guy’. Jackie Brown (1997) was a step in the right direction, but with Kill Bill he’s only achieved becoming ‘the sword guy’. Next on the drawing board: a Pulp Fiction prequel. And to think he once seemed so promising…