Chapter Two: Kill Bill Vol. 2
By Brett Beach
May 20, 2010
It’s that always-underlying need to be scared that informs or should inform the lives of his characters. It is perhaps easier to think of the conversations in Vol. 2 that don’t resolve themselves violently - Budd and his boss; Beatrix and the aging pimp Esteban - than all of the ones, no matter how protracted, that do. (Beatrix and Bill’s final “Face to Face” fills up nearly a quarter of the film’s running time.) Yet even the two examples I just cited contain the possibility of a different, more brutal unraveling. The menace is palpable.
But what about the issue I have striven to avoid up until this point: Is Kill Bill Vol. 2 justified in its existence? Is it really just a limb hacked off of the first film’s cinematic torso? Much was made at the time of Miramax’ decision to avoid releasing one long film when filmgoers would most likely pony up for two trips to the cinema. Vol. 2 is notably longer in theory but this includes closing credits that run 14 minutes! (It must be said, however, Tarantino finds a way to keep them interesting up to and including the final Easter egg.) Money-grab though this may have been, the decision played out very well from a financial and critical standpoint.
Released in the fall of 2003, Vol. 1 opened with $22 million on its way to $70 million. Six months later, Vol. 2 premiered at $25 million while topping out at $66 million. Each, for a time, was Tarantino’s best opening weekend. Internationally, the two volumes performed similarly with the first out-grossing the second, a result that can be attributed to the more action/less talk nature of Vol. 1 and its extensive featuring of elements that had more pull abroad. The two parts tallied $110 million and $85 million respectively. With a budget estimated at around $60 million for the project and total worldwide grosses a smidge over $330 million, it’s easy to imagine that this pulled in at least twice as much as it might have if it had been a single long film or a severely chopped down (and lesser) one. Both installments received overwhelmingly positive critical praise and each sits with an 85% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Tarantino has promised (or threatened) for years now to put together an incorporated version of Kill Bill that restores the two volumes into a single whole four-hours-and-then-some magnum opus with re-jiggered opening and closing credits and some new footage edited in. While I don’t deny that this would be a fun epic cinematic experience (and this coming from someone who was uber-jazzed to see the near five-hour roadshow version of Soderbergh’s Che in part because all the credits were printed in a collectible booklet instead of being on-screen), I think that Vol. 2 not only stands on its own, but needs its separateness in order to maintain what makes it better than Vol. 1. The ten individual “chapters” that Tarantino divides the films into reflect a literary sensibility, but his titles and Beatrix’s to-kill list select a musical influence - a greatest hits collection, best of, or most appropriately, a Whitman’s Sampler of different genres. And in this sense, each film is its own creature.