The magpie's the most charming bird in all the world. The magpie deserves our respect." So chirps a Saturday morning cartoon playing on the television during one scene of Kill Bill: Vol. 2, perhaps answering critics who argue Tarantino is little more than a cultural blender.
It's a persuasive argument. Take Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Everyone knows it was pilfered from every trashpile going - - Samurai flicks, Yakuza movies, spaghetti Westerns, comic books, rape-revenge nasties - - but what did it matter? Who cares if entire scenes were borrowed from Lady Snowblood, an obscure Japanese schlocker released in1973? So what if The Bride's (Uma Thurman) chilling "I'll be waiting" speech directed at Vernita Green's daughter was lifted, wholesale, from Takashi Miike's Rainy Dog? And is anyone really bothered that Daryl Hannah's eyepatch-sporting überbitch was plucked from Swedish sexploitation drama They Call Her One-Eye? It's actually pretty cool, another example of Tarantino plundering ingredients from a cinematic Big Mac to rustle up a Royale With Cheese. It's his favourite trick. It never fails.
Until now. Vol. 2 isn't a bad film but it is a gut-wrenchingly disappointing one, taking Vol. 1's sleek, slinky, ruthlessly efficient assassin of a movie and retiring it to the suburbs. It's recognisable, still capable, but broad of hip and fat of arse.
Rightly mimicking Vol. 1's fractured structure, this second instalment's chopped into five time-skipping chapters. Hop forwards and we have Black Mamba heading to El Paso to do venomous battle with the two remaining serpents, Budd AKA Sidewinder (Michael Madsen) and Elle AKA California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah). Oily snake charmer Bill (David Carradine) awaits.
Hop backwards and we're front row at the wedding chapel - - here comes the massacre - - before rewinding to China for The Bride's rigorous training under kung fu master Pei Mei (Shaw Brothers' favourite Gordon Liu). There's also the little matter of those slippery questions left dangling by Vol. 1: why did Bill shoot The Bride? What's her real name? What has become of her daughter? All are answered, though none too convincingly.
More fumble than failure, Kill Bill Vol 2 has several standout sequences, adrenaline-shot episodes that place Tarantino at the top of his enviable game. Best of these is the trailer-trashing face off between The Bride and Elle, two blonde goddesses tearing chunks out of each other in the most painfully amusing ways imaginable. It's short, it's sharp, it's The Bride versus Vernita Green with bonus wince. Mind you, the sadistic smackdowns with brothers Budd and Bill aren't far behind, one painfully protracted, one explosive, both beautifully acted.
It's not just the money-shot scrap scenes, either. Vol. 2 sparkles with memorable images, treasures glinting amid the roughage of this magpie's nest: a shimmering Bride emerging from the desert haze; a reverse dolly out of the chapel to reveal the approaching Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (pure Leone); and a fantastic sight gag involving The Not-So-Yellow-Haired Warrior stumbling towards a diner. Put them all together and you have your money's worth.
What you don't have is an estimable follow-up to Vol. 1. Partly it's because no single scene comes close to matching The House Of Blue Leaves. Partly it's because, for once, it's Tarantino who serves the Big Mac, his much-vaunted spaghetti/macaroni Western proving no match for the Dollars trilogy (it's true of individual scenes, too, with his eagerly-anticipated training sequence falling short of those in Highlander and Bloodsport, let alone Snake In The Eagle's Shadow.) But mostly it's because this is too little spread over too long, the endless chit-chat and needless `emotional depth' resulting in unsightly cellulite.
The latter is a misjudgement, Tarantino trying to flesh out characters that belong in a world of scissors and cardboard. It's tortuous to watch, The Bride forgetting her teachings ("Suppress all human emotion and compassion...") as her head becomes cluttered and her saggy arse sinks further into that suburban sofa. And the dialogue? Hell, it's not even that Vol. 1 was so clipped, so concise, so imperiously pared down. It's worse than that. It's that it doesn't sound like Tarantino but someone imitating Tarantino. Just listen to Budd mouthing ""Wakey, wakey, eggs and bac-ey"" or - - cringeworthy, this - Bill's `Superman' monologue: it's just the rat-a-tut-tut scribblings of one of those bothersome Quentin counterfeiters who were 10-a-penny in the mid-'90s.
Now wasn't it QT himself who told us we should accept no substitutes?