Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Who wants to watch bad movies forever?
Highlander II: The Quickening is largely considered one of the worst big-budgeted science fiction movies to come out of the late 20th century. A mess of half-cooked, inappropriately intertwined tangents, the movie took the premise of the original Highlander (sword wielding immortal must stay alive in death tournament of fellow immortals) and adds in a large heaping of science fiction hoo-hah that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Scientology doctrine.
What was once a fantasy film featuring sword fights, inappropriately accented actors and a rocking Queen soundtrack is now a mess of a sequel that can’t decide if it wants to be an environmental parable, a Ridley Scott film or the fevered dreams of L. Ron Hubbard.
In 1995 director Russell Mulcahy tried his best to salvage something watchable from the charred wreckage that was Highlander II: The Quickening. Known as Highlander II: The Renegade Version, Mulcahy’s director’s cut took out scenes and added in new ones — restructuring the plot and eliminating certain widely disliked plot threads.
In 2004 the film was revisited once again with producers William Panzer and Peter Davis making a few of their own alterations — most notably adding in some improved CGI special effects. The Blu-ray disc of Highlander 2 released last week is Panzer and Davis’ special edition.
While the movie still remains a mess, it is far more watchable than the original cut of the film — which is really like saying getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick is a lot more pleasant of an experience than being shot out of a cannon into the heart of the sun.
Christopher Lambert reprises his role as Connor MacLeod, a French-accented immortal from Scotland who won “the game” at the end of Highlander and achieved mortality. Also, he might be an alien sent to the Earth as a form of exile.
One of the most drastic changes made from the theatrical version of Highlander II is the almost complete removal of any mention that the race of immortals that MacLeod belongs to is actually from a distant planet. Instead, the special edition of the film released on Blu-ray paints MacLeod as a warrior from the distant past who, after rebelling against the rule of General Katana (Michael Ironside), was banished into the future with limited memory of his past.
Either way, MacLeod is not your average Scottish immortal. After achieving mortality at the end of the first film, he finds his life takes a drastic nosedive when the earth’s ozone layer develops more holes than the plot of Highlander II: The Quickening.
His wife succumbing to solar radiation due to the ozone’s depletion, MacLeod decides to join the scientific community in developing a protective shield around the Earth that will keep humanity safe in a perpetually dark and dreary world of their own construction.
How exactly a sword-wielding Scot was able to join the scientific community of the world in building the shield is never quite explained. What really did MacLeod bring to the table? His ability to decapitate thugs to a Queen soundtrack? I guess when you live for a few centuries, you tend to pick up little tricks like advanced geometric computer protection processing or gravitational astro-physical repurposing or any other number of baloney sciences that I’m making up in an effort to pretend I understood how the heck they were able to shield the Earth in a bright blue dome.
It doesn’t matter in the end, though. Time has passed and MacLeod is now a feeble old man waiting to die. Unfortunately, his old nemesis General Katana is an impatient man and wants to see MacLeod get his head chopped off sooner than later.
After battling some of Katana’s henchmen — a duo of porcupine-looking punks with rocket boots — MacLeod finds his youth and strength flooding back to him during a process called the Quickening.
Interesting side-note: The head of an immortal is surprising easy to chop off. You would think if you were an ageless warrior who’s one Achilles’ heal was decapitation, you might want to wear a protective armor around your neck. That’s not the case, though. Immortals can survive gunshots, knife wounds, broken hearts and indigestion but if you clothesline them with a piece of rope, that head’s going to go flying off.
If the wrath of General Katana wasn’t enough of a pain to deal with for MacLeod, he finds himself embroiled in the corporate machinations of the corrupt company that controls the Earth’s shield. Run by a sniveling Patrick Bateman wannabe (played by John C. McGinley in exactly the same way McGinley plays every single one of his roles), the company is determined to leave the shield where it is — regardless of the fact that the Earth’s ozone layer has repaired itself and the shield is no longer needed. Virginia Madsen co-stars as an environmental terrorist who teams up with MacLeod to shut down the shield and restore Earth’s bright blue skies.
And then, there’s Sean Connery. Connery returns to the series despite having had his head chopped off in the original movie. Resurrected thanks to the power of the Quickening (and the power of box-office draw), Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Connery as an Egyptian/Spaniard with a Scottish accent) is resurrected and sent on a quest to assist MacLeod. Connery, as he is apt to do is such ridiculously bad movies, offers some much needed levity and humor to the otherwise bleak background.
Highlander II really seems like two movies merged into one grotesque mutant production. Helplessly steeped in the Highlander mythology, the film tries embarrassingly hard to explain the origins of the immortals where no explanation was really needed. It also tries to be a timely environmental parable — despite the fact that the science presented in the film seems off-puttingly out of place in the Highlander universe.
There’s a lot going on in the Highlander sequel that’s worth watching. Connery, McGinley and Ironside seem to be in a competition to see who can chew the most scenery — with Ironside taking first prize and a kewpie doll. Ironside’s Katana is the type of comic book villain from the past that is sorely missed in today’s action films — over the top in his delivery, unrepentantly evil for evil’s sake and sporting the worst haircut since rock and roll got together and decided it was going to dial down the homoeroticism.
The digital restoration of the movie is mostly a success. Despite a few scenes that have aged beyond repair, the movie looks fresh — perfectly showcasing the Blade Runner-inspired set decorations of the film’s Argentinean production.
Highlander II remains a turgid chore to sit through for non-Highlander fans. The film deserves props for trying something new and breaking free from formula but in the end shows that sometimes it’s worth sticking to what you know works.
Tags: Bad Movies Done Right, Blade Runner, Christopher Lambert, Highlander, John C. McGinley, Queen, Ridley Scott, Sean Connery