"Kill Bill: Vol. 1" upset many viewers with its violence, so that's an apt starting point for reviewing "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," conceived by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino as the second half of a single movie and released separately when the picture became too long for a single sitting.
"Vol. 2" has plenty of explicit mayhem, but noticeably less than its predecessor, and certainly not more than many commonplace R-rated pictures.
Then too, the context for considering movie violence has subtly shifted in recent weeks.
It's worth noting that while "Vol. 1" had much bloodshed and a high body count, most of the carnage verged on cartoonish parody of the venerable kung-fu genre it paid homage to. By contrast, Mel Gibson's widely embraced "The Passion of the Christ" shows fewer bodies in agony, but lingers on that agony in realistic and excruciating detail, using an (implicit) spiritual message to justify (explicit) physical atrocities that clearly haven't dented its box-office appeal.
Looking at "Kill Bill" as a whole, it's remarkable how much more sophisticated "Vol. 2" is in verbal dexterity and character complexity. Uma Thurman plays the same vengeance-crazed heroine who slaughtered the other murderers of her wedding party in "Vol. 1," and is now after instigator Bill himself.
This time she has a full-fledged personality, though, especially when the plot lets her be a mommy (!) in some of the most sensitive and even endearing (!!) moments Tarantino has ever created.
Tarantino has always been an inventive director, and in "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" he's at his cinematic best, showing an ingenuity that nothing in his monster hit "Pulp Fiction" surpasses.
Most impressive of all is the acting by Thurman as the sword-swinging protagonist, David Carradine as her ultimate prey, Darryl Hannah as her female foe, and Michael Madsen as Bill's lowbrow brother.
Kudos also go to Robert Richardson for his vivid camera work, Sally Menke for her impeccable film editing, and Tarantino for his screenplay, inspired by the character called The Bride, which he and Thurman jointly devised.
Like all of Tarantino's work, "Kill Bill" is emphatically not for the squeamish. When its two portions are inevitably combined on DVD, though, it will be seen as a unified action thriller that gets better and better as it goes along.
• Rated R; contains violence and vulgarity.