If you were blown away by Uma Thurman's roaring rampage of revenge in Kill Bill: Volume 1, then prepare to be rocketed to nosebleed-inducing heights in Volume 2. Nobody matches director Quentin Tarantino for cinematic swagger, as the completion of his killing opus proves. The comic book frivolity of Volume 1 is carried into this second instalment but deftly counterbalanced by an operatic pathos that makes this one of the most heart-poundingly visceral movies ever made.
More tears are shed than blood in Thurman's second outing as ex-assassin Black Mamba - the role she was born to play - and as if to underline the emergence of her humanity, QT finally names her. She is Beatrix Kiddo, whipping like a cyclone through the dustbowl of Tex-Mex country (reminiscent of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns) with her sights fixed on the remaining members of the treacherous Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. They are laconic loser Budd (Michael Madsen), the oddly honourable Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and the man who gunned her down whilst she was pregnant with his child, her mentor, Bill (David Carradine).
"WHAT CINEMA WAS MADE FOR"
Between visually arresting fits of violence, Tarantino achieves compelling stillness. Punctuating each 'chapter' of the film is a scene of conversation through which he builds incredible tension with minimal gestures and pinpoint deliberate dialogue. Along with a peppering of stylish flashbacks, QT fills the emotional blanks concerning Kiddo and Bill - a romance as heart-wrenchingly tragic as anything found in a Shakespearean play. Ultimately though, Kill Bill is testament to the indomitable force of maternal love.
And there are laughs aplenty. An extended flashback to Kiddo's tutelage under kung fu master Pai Mei (Hong Kong legend Chia Hui Liu) sees him send up his cinematic alter-ego, Gordon Liu - thoughtfully stroking his beard in hilarious crash-zoom close-ups. Still, much of the humour is underplayed, as when Bill imparts to Kiddo the longwinded story behind Pai Mei's five-point exploding heart technique.
At the end of this long and bloody road lies total satisfaction - for Beatrix Kiddo, and for moviegoers at large. In its entirety, Kill Bill is what cinema was made for. It exploits the medium in every conceivable way to tell a story that's larger than life while striking universal chords. This is, to cut to the chase, a masterpiece.