How could Quentin Tarantino possibly follow up the audiovisual orgy that was Kill Bill Volume 1? Simply speaking, there was no way. Still, Tarantino has outdone himself with Vol. 2, and has split what would have been one good one movie into two better films.

For those who missed out on last fall’s Vol. 1, an expert assassin known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman) was left in a coma after a brutal massacre during her wedding ceremony. When she awakens, The Bride seeks revenge on her assailants, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and their leader, the notorious Bill (David Carradine).

Although Vol. 2 picks up the story right where Vol. 1 left off, the two films have relatively little in common. Sure, both are full of Tarantino’s masturbatory love of everything 70’s – outrageous action scenes, crushing black humor, and too-clever dialogue. However, whereas Vol. 1 comes across as a bloody, nonstop Samurai romp of rage and revenge, Vol. 2 slows the action down, allowing the viewer to get to know the characters. In effect, Vol. 2 is the best spaghetti western/kung fu hybrid I’ve ever seen. It deserves to be seen on its own terms, rather than as a direct sequel to Vol. 1.

Although Bill was curiously absent from Vol. 1, he manages to dominate Vol. 2 without spending much time on screen. Carradine had vanished into B-movie obscurity, but Tarantino resurrects him, and Carradine gives us the best villain performance in recent memory. Classy, intelligent, and funny – yet seldom cliché – Carradine’s Bill has more presence in a single one of his scenes than most villains enjoy in their entire movie careers

If Carradine is good, Thurman is spectacular. I’ll leave it at this: she is Hollywood’s best femme fatale ever.

Before finally meeting Bill, The Bride finds herself crossing swords with Michael Madsen, trailer trash with an attitude, and Daryl Hannah, a ruthless, one-eyed killer. Madsen and Hannah are great, though Vol. 2’s best supporting character is Michael Parks, who plays a sweet-talking Latin pimp.

As fantastic as Vol. 2 is, it can’t help but feel a little anti-climactic. After all, those who watched Vol. 1 were treated to a 20-minute grand finale in which The Bride committed the bloodiest massacre in mainstream movie history. Tarantino couldn’t possibly follow up something so powerful, so he doesn’t try to. Some people will inevitably be a little disappointed with how much slower and less exciting Vol. 2 seems when compared to its predecessor. Despite this complaint, this is the best film I’ve seen in theaters all year.

After seeing how well Vol. 2 has turned out, I’m willing to forgive Miramax for convincing Tarantino to split Kill Bill into halves. It was well worth the wait.