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reviewed by Jesse Walker

April 19, 2004 | This is a fanboy review. I probably should have sent it to Ain't It Cool News. "Remember Kill Bill Vol. 1?" it would begin. "Remember how it was great? Well, Vol. 2 is fucking great." Better yet, I could send that directly to Mr. Tarantino. It sounds like something he might say.

But instead I'll begin by mentioning that I really didn't care for that other art-house martial-arts tribute, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, I know: it had some lively fight scenes, and I enjoyed watching them; or, at least, I enjoyed watching the ones that weren't shot in the dark. (Between Crouching Tiger and Hulk, Ang Lee seems intent on proving himself the master of invisible action.) But separating those scenes were long portentous speeches about Friendship, and Loyalty, and other Things That Feel Like They Begin With Capital Letters. The entire movie was infused with this intense seriousness, as though the filmmakers were a bit embarrassed to be making a chop-socky flick and wanted to ennoble everything with a little Deep Sentiment.

Unfortunately, there's a difference between talking about friendship or loyalty and actually saying anything about it. The chief effect, at least for those of us yawning in the back row, was to show up just how ridiculous the whole movie really was.

Kill Bill is exactly the opposite. It doesn't beg us to take it seriously; it begs us to kick back and have fun. It embraces the ridiculousness, it exults in the ridiculousness, it never goes long without reminding you of the ridiculousness. The first installment begins with an epigraph from Star Trek -- from Star Trek! -- and climaxes with a woman single-handedly fighting a squadron called "the Crazy 88." I sat there chuckling, and I got more and more engrossed, and by the end I realized that somehow, while I wasn't looking, something had crept into this deeply silly movie. Soaking in all that delightful pop-culture trash, it had absorbed a certain grandeur.

Vol. 2 goes further. It has the same homages and in-jokes that the first film displayed, the same loving irony-without-detachment. It also has the classic Quentin Tarantino elements that seemed to be missing from the earlier picture: the sharp, pop-savvy dialogue (best represented here when the title character offers his take on Superman); the wonderfully skewed variations on classic movie setups (best represented here when Tarantino takes the oldest action cliché -- the standoff -- and throws a home pregnancy test into the mix). The picture radically shifts styles, it plays with primal phobias, and it establishes itself as a solid piece of genre filmmaking.

But it also deepens our sense of these characters, treats this objectively silly material with respect, and somehow made me take it seriously. Not by loudly proclaiming its seriousness, a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but by earning my respect; by letting me get attached to these pulp characters with their truth serums, their kung fu superpowers, and their deeply human attachments and resentments and revealing little lies. Kill Bill Vol. 2 includes a throwaway shot of an inscription on a sword that packs more heartbreak than anything in Crouching Tiger or -- as long as I'm picking on long-winded epics -- in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings.

There's more that I could say, but I'm not going to say it, because I don't want to give away any substantial plot points. This is, like I said, a fanboy review. I'm writing it because I want you to watch this movie, and I wouldn't dream of taking away any of the fun. So: Four stars. Two thumbs up. Insert superlative here. Just see the damn movie.

Jesse Walker is managing editor of Reason and author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America (NYU Press).

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