Should I Watch..? 'Highlander II: The Quickening'
What's the big deal?
Highlander II: The Quickening is a sci-fi action film released in 1991 and is the sequel to director Russell Mulcahy's earlier cult hit Highlander. This film sees an aging Connor MacLeod in a future society join forces with an eco-terrorist to bring down a conspiracy as well as battle a fellow Immortal intent on killing him. The film stars Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Michael Ironside and Virginia Madsen. The original version was savaged by critics and fans alike for its drastic change in style and pace as well as being narratively inconsistent with the first film and has since gone down as one of the worst films of all time. Mulcahy released a 'director's cut' in 1995 while the producers Peter Davis & William Panzer released a Special Edition in 2004 - the version I saw. While these alternative versions attempt to rectify the mistakes of the original version, this film has been ignored altogether by subsequent sequels and is very much the black sheep of the series.
What's it about?
In the then-future of 1999, Connor MacLeod is part of a scientific team headed by Dr Allan Neyman to develop an electromagnetic shield around the Earth to protect humanity from harmful radiation after the ozone layer is completely worn away. Initially happy with saving the world, they quickly discover the side-effects of their artificial ozone layer - the world is now permanently at night with much higher average temperatures and excessive humidity. By 2024, society has collapsed and ownership of the Shield has fallen to the Shield Corporation led by David Blake, a ruthless executive focused on profit.
With MacLeod now accepting his mortality, he finds himself accosted by Louise Marcus who is a wanted leader of an eco-terrorist group called Cobalt. While she tries to persuade MacLeod to join her campaign against the Shield Corporation, they are attacked by two Immortal assassins sent through time to kill MacLeod by General Katana, a former enemy of MacLeod's from the very distant past. With his Immortality restored, MacLeod not only faces his past but also must destroy the thing he helped to create.
Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez
John C. McGinley
Release Date (UK)
12th April, 1991
Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
Right, I'm going to stop you there. I know what you're thinking - two stars for a possible candidate for the Worst Film Ever? Remember, I watched the 2004 edition and not the incomprehensible original version and while the film is still a bit of a dog's breakfast, it has been improved. For starters, all that nonsense about the Immortals coming from an alien planet has been thankfully replaced by some garbled nonsense about them originating from the distant past although they still have the technology to travel in time. Thinking about it, what use is such technology if they are already Immortal? Thinking about the mechanics of the narrative isn't recommended so let's look at the film itself.
In some respects, the film is actually quite impressive. The early scenes featuring MacLeod battling his would-be killers in a dark urban environment are impressive with a working railroad and plenty of gangways suspended in the air, clearly to elevate the inevitable swordplay. What really impressed me were the flying sequences with MacLeod and one of the assassins whooshing all over the place without much in the way of detectable CG - it was all done with wires and trickery. Sadly, these early scenes would be as good as it gets because it all comes tumbling down with the weight of its own pretentiousness.
- Part of the film's poor performance has been blamed on the Argentine insurance company taking control of the film-making process in an effort to reduce their losses, making the film as mass appeal as possible. Mulcahy was so disgusted with the film that he walked out of the premier after just 15 minutes. Lambert also tried to walk away during filming but contractual obligations forbade it.
- Lambert refused to use a fake sword initially for the fight scenes. After Ironside cut Lambert's finger to the bone and Lambert dislocated Ironside's jaw (chipping a tooth in the process), Lambert then changed his mind.
- Ironside claimed that he, Lambert and Connery only made the film for the money, adding that if he was going to be in such a bad movie then he was going to over-act like crazy and be the most memorable thing in it. Madsen admitted she only did the film for two reasons: travelling to Argentina and working with Connery.
What's not to like?
From top to bottom, the film is riddled with so many faults that I'm amazed anyone thought they could salvage something. I've already discussed the narrative which makes no sense, regardless of which version you're watching. In addition to the confusing origins of the Immortals, General Katana's motivations are a total mystery and the whole thing about the Shield also makes no sense - wouldn't a lack of sunlight have an impact on food production, resulting in mankind's extinction anyway? Like I said, this isn't a film that rewards viewers who ask awkward questions. Or even sensible ones.
But there are other problems besides the idiotic script. The cast are clearly only in it for the money with Ironside's ridiculous baddie, full of all the eye-swivelling lunacy and bro-ha-ha you'd expect, topping the lot for sheer awfulness. Connery looks embarrassed to be there while Lambert's expression barely changes, whether he's chopping people's heads off or plunging head-first into the inexplicable romance between him and Madsen. The soundtrack, memorably provided by Queen in the original movie, is provided by a number of anonymous rock bands imitating their sound but not the quality. Mulcahy's direction is also sorely lacking - the action feels slower compared to the first film and more clearly staged while the scenes that don't involve a sword are slow and very boring. The film simply doesn't engage you as a viewer and because we don't understand what's going on, we don't care.
Should I watch it?
Despite the sheer effort to try and forge something from this steaming pile of garbage, Highlander II: The Quickening is a career-wrecking disaster of a film that everybody involved would rather you forgot. The only reason it avoided one-star ignominy is due to the good work in the first twenty minutes or so with the set work and technical prowess during the fight scene with the flying goofball assassins. Otherwise, it's in everyone's best interests if we all moved on with our lives unless you're a fan of the first film. In that case, you'll be reaching for your torches and pitch-forks.
Great For: destroying franchises, destroying careers, destroying audience's goodwill
Not So Great For: the Argentine film industry, fans of Highlander, the TV show which debuted the following year and was received much better than this
What else should I watch?
Although this would undoubtedly be the lowest point for the series, the subsequent sequels failed to offer much in the way of improvement. Highlander III: The Sorcerer sees another Immortal emerge for Connor to defeat, having being sealed in a cave during the Gathering in the first film. It's little more than a copy of the original whereas Highlander: Endgame (the last theatrically released film in the series) at least told an original story, linking the film's narrative with that of the successful TV show. Mind you, it still bombed. Stick with the first film - like they say, there can be only one.
Fans of proper fantasy films will undoubtedly enjoy Peter Jackson's peerless The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, starting with the family-friendly The Fellowship Of The Ring before moving through the gears with The Two Towers before reaching a bloody climax in The Return Of The King. Sadly, lightning didn't strike twice with his trilogy based on The Hobbit. However, fans of more contemporary fiction might enjoy the Harry Potter series of films. They lack the consistency of The Lord Of The Rings (I didn't really enjoy The Chamber Of Secrets if I'm honest) but for anyone who can't be bothered with the books, they offer a great deal of fun and hocus-pocus for fans wanting such.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox