Richard almost commits seppuku with one of the worst sequels ever made.
Who made it?: Russell Mulcahy (Director), Peter Bellwood (Writer), William Panzer, Peter S. Davis, Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury (Producers).
Who’s in it?: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, Allan Rich, John C. McGinley.
Tagline: “It’s time for a new kind of magic.”
IMDb rating: 4.1/10.
Last week I reviewed Highlander, one of the greatest cheesy fantasy flicks of the 80s, right up there with Krull and Willow. Highlander wasn’t interested in boring things like historical accuracy, plot consistency or regionally-appropriate accents. It had a great idea for a story and ran with it all the way to the fat lady singing, before being promptly decapitated and everything exploded in lightning. Part of the appeal was that the “reason” behind the whole story was left completely unexplained. Until 1991 that is, when director Russell Mulcahy and actors Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert returned to explain it. And they explained it alright… they definitely did that…
Here’s the thing. I am a fan of the first Highlander film, before it was hung, drawn and quartered by its many sequels. And every single fan of the original has one thing in common: we HATE Highlander II: The Quickening.
Never before or since has there been a sequel so unnecessary, so unwelcome, so single-mindedly ruinous to the original property that wrought it. No single piece of cinema, with the possible exception of the 2011 “remake” of The Thing, has angered me so intensely as this utter trainwreck of a film. The Thing at least preserved the dignity of the original by being a clear act of hubris by uninspired simpletons attempting to profit from an old master’s glory. But Highlander II had the same director and leads. I saw this film the first time completely unaware of its notoriety and damnation by the fanbase. I was expecting the cinematic equivalent of meeting an old friend for dinner and a show – a happy and comfortable reunion. However, upon meeting my friend, he promptly entered a psychotic madness, frothing at the mouth and screaming about aliens and the planet Zeist. That was while attempting to chew my eyes out and chop my head off. But I digress.
So, we catch up with Connor Macleod AKA the Highlander in 2024. Having claimed “The Prize” at the end of the last movie, he is now a mortal man with access to all the world’s knowledge. He used this knowledge to design a massive planetary shield to stop world destruction after the collapse of the ozone layer. He’s an old man and the world has become a dystopian urban sprawl. What happened to his love interest at the end of the last film? Honestly, no clue. While that seems like a relevant question in attempting to follow what’s happening in this very strange turn of events, it quickly disabuses you of such minor complaints or queries. Because of the flashback. Not a flashback, THE flashback.
It would appear that the immortals are actually convicted traitors from the planet Zeist, sent to earth 500 years ago to participate in the “Game” for the “Prize” as part of their banishment. The Prize now being the option to return to Zeist or live out their now-mortal lives on earth. I am not joking. They actually did this. Go back and read my review of Highlander and see how well you think the “space rebels” explanation works. Hell, watch the first film again and tell me if it makes even a lick of sense. And it isn’t like this is some hastily-added voiceover they threw in for financial reasons; they filmed scenes at a rebel meeting held in the wreckage of a Zeistian spaceship. At least that’s where the meeting is being held until Ramirez and Macleod have to face a surprise attack by someone called General Katana.
So… to summarise: Ramirez and Macleod (their Zeistian names, apparently) actually knew each other before meeting in Scotland in the sixteenth century. Ramirez still sounds like a Scotsman despite being an alien, masquerading as an Egyptian pretending to be a Spaniard while Highlander Macleod still sounds like a drunken Frenchman. And their main enemy is called General KATANA, who a) does not use a katana and b) is being played by Michael Ironside in the most devastatingly scenery-chewing hamfest of his career. All this within fifteen minutes of hitting the play button. Holy shit.
To save some semblance of my soul, I’ll breeze through some of the film’s highlights since deeper examination might result in an aneurysm. So, Macleod is re-immortalised by Katana sending two Battle Earth-looking goons to kill Macleod resulting in an inevitable Quickening (decapitation = big boom and immortality). Why did he send them? Macleod was well on his way to death by depressing old age! Separately, a rebel commando/”love interest” finds out that the ozone layer has actually fixed itself outside the shield, and she goes to confront Macleod about it just in time to watch him ditch all the poorly-applied old man make-up in a massive oil fire. How do I know she is a love interest? Because after two-minutes of interaction and watching him firm up under heat treatment, she jumps his bones like he’s an Old West stallion and she’s fleeing a train robbery! Oh, and during all this, Macleod shouts Ramirez’s name which makes him miraculously appear in Scotland despite receiving a helluva shaving cut in the last film. Why? Well, there’s actually a simple explanation, it’s because… AAARRGH!
While the stupid certainly doesn’t stop, picking up speed until the narrative resembles supersonic swiss cheese, my discussion has to end. I simply lack the energy to fight its monstrous mass. It’s not like the film makes up for any of this in its looks either. It is a cheap Blade Runner rip-off at the best of times. This film was never going to be good I suspect, but the truth is that it never had a chance. Filming took place in Argentina during a financial collapse, making the whole production a money sinkhole, much to the insurer’s panic. Their efforts to edit it into a real feature-length film, and their lawyer’s efforts to get the cast and crew to STFO about the whole thing, was just dumping barrels of salt on an already wounded film. The only question left I guess is: why? Why would you try and make a sequel to a film which ended with so much finality? Why would you try and explain something whose whole appeal lay in its mystery? Why in the name of merciful heaven would you ever let this burning oilrig of a film see the light of day?
Hell if I know!
Slim pickings, indeed.
- Christopher Lambert was so disgusted with the re-written script that he wanted to drop out of the film; contractual obligations forced him to finish it.
- Roger Ebert named Highlander II: The Quickening the worst film of 1991.
- John C. McGinley made his character’s voice as deep as possible in an effort to imitate Orson Welles. He has since admitted that it was a bad idea.
- Michael Ironside recalled his experiences on the film: “Yeah, listen, I hated that script. We all did. Me, Sean, Chris… we all were in it for the money on this one. I mean, it read as if it had been written by a thirteen year old boy. But I’d never played a barbarian swordsman before, and this was my first big evil mastermind type. I figured if I was going to do this stupid movie, I might as well have fun, and go as far over the top as I possibly could. All that eye-rolling and foaming at the mouth was me deciding that if I was going to be in a piece of shit, like that movie, I was going to be the most memorable fucking thing in it. And I think I succeeded.”