If you didn't see Vol. 1, you have no business being here. It's not that this isn't a complete film on its own - there's plenty of voice over backtracking to bring it all up to date -- but if you haven't seen the first one, you're missing a big, flashy helping of rampant violence, non-stop action and wild humor.
Compared to that first outing, this one is cerebral. Don't worry, between the martial arts fights (a particularly good cat fight with Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah) and the many slashing swords in the steel-versus-steel confrontations, there's action galore. It's just that writer-director Quentin Tarantino decided to make the second half of this gloriously excessive piece of filmmaking much more talky than the first. There's always the chance that someone's going to pick up a shotgun and blow someone away, but sometimes these characters just want to chat.
Perhaps it's part of his homage to the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. Just like those films, with their constant quiet talk (and their long silences), this one features full-screen close-ups of actors faces as they approach one another, and even takes the time to get close-ups of their footwear. And Tarantino uses some of the same Ennio Morricone music that was in the Leone films.
There are also many nods to Tarantino's favorite Hong Kong-made Kung Fu movies, and who better to play Bill, the man that Uma's nameless character (she's referred to only as "the Bride) wants to kill, than David Carradine, who made his name on the TV show Kung Fu.
Carradine was seen briefly in Vol. 1, but here has a major part. And he's a marvel to look at, with his wonderfully craggy face -- and even better to listen to, with a deep, gravelly voice that goes nicely with his character's inclination to tell long stories.
The film begins with a recap -- in black and white -- of the wedding slaughter that started off Vol. 1, but goes back a little earlier, revealing more of what was happening at the little chapel outside of El Paso. Casual viewers will enjoy the cigarette-smoke-drenched sequences with the wedding's musical accompanist, Rufus. Astute viewers -- and those of you reading this -- will realize that Rufus is played by an unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson, a pal of Tarantino's.
As the film slowly unwinds, more and more background information is filled in, explaining why the Bride was gunned down and left for dead in the first place, and offering clues as to what she has in mind for anyone who gets in the way of her revenge.
Tarantino makes sure there's a healthy dose of his dark sense of humor running through this, presenting absurdly grisly deaths and related situations for the many people who do get in her way. But don't be fooled by those pleasantries. This is also quite the nasty movie. The big desert that provides the backdrop for the Bride's very bad wedding day holds some particularly unpleasant surprises.
As each character is introduced or, in many cases reintroduced, the film's main motif becomes clear: You just can't tell how sadistic each of them is capable of being until you see them in full-fledged action.
In Vol. 2, Daryl Hannah definitely ups the vicious stakes of her Elle Driver aka California Mountain Snake, and Michael Madsen presents more of a threat as Budd, aka Sidewinder.
Of course, it's Thurman upon whom everyone's eyes will be fixated. These two films have provided the role of her career to date, and she goes at it vigorously. When she's on top of the situation, nothing can survive her assault. But there are many instances where she just gets the tar beaten out of her. And she makes it very real in both circumstances.
Even though, as mentioned, there's less outlandishness this time, there's no let-up of intensity. Tarantino's vision is an unrelenting one, and he's made a masterpiece of whatever patchwork genre this actually is. Did the experiment of making one big, long film then cutting it in two work? Absolutely. Tarantino and company bring it to a more-than-satisfying conclusion, and there's no need to think about the possibility of a Part Three. Besides, if this was one grueling four-hour film, no one would have the strength to stand up at the end of it.