DIRECTED BY: Russell Mulcahy
FEATURING: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Michael Ironside, Virginia Madsen
PLOT: Opposed by a ruthless corporation, an Immortal investigates whether it’s time to remove the ozone shield blanketing the Earth, while he’s being hunted by another Immortal.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Highlander II is just crazy enough that it actually has a long shot to make the List—but not in this “Renegade” version. Word has it that the original, pre-director’s cut theatrical release (Highlander II: The Quickening) is even more incoherent, and if a Highlander II makes the cut it should be the most illogical edition in existence.
COMMENTS: Confession: I haven’t seen the original cult classic Highlander. I think this makes me the perfect candidate to review Highlander II, because when I tell you this movie sucks, you can be sure that I am not just some fanboy whining because the sequel violated some obscure point of Highlander canon law (like bringing Sean Connery back from the dead or changing the Immortals from mythical beings into space aliens). No, I can assure you that Highlander blows on its own terms, that it’s internally as well as externally inconsistent, and that it violates the conventions of professional moviemaking as rudely as it breaks the rules of the Highlander mythos. For a movie to go as spectacularly bad as Highlander II, multiple things have to go wrong; director Russell Mulcahy takes as many wrong turns as someone following handwritten directions to the Dyslexia Association’s national convention. The movie’s first issue is its dual-plot (plus subplots) structure; not a killer flaw on its own, but a good substrate for growing other problems. Our ancient Highlander is being hunted by Immortals from the ancient past who want to decapitate him; that makes sense, I guess. Simultaneously, however, he’s dealing with a shield he helped build around the Earth to protect it from a hole in the ozone layer; the atmosphere may have fixed itself, or so eco-terrorists seem to believe, but evil Shield Corporation wants to keep their monopoly on protective barriers despite the fact that their product keeps the Earth in perpetual darkness. This seems like a totally different, though equally brain dead, sci-fi script that was jammed together with a Highlander sequel screenplay to make a new movie. Forget the obvious problems, though—like the fact that you couldn’t grow crops in the endless night caused by the ozone shield—nothing in Highlander II makes sense from a basic storytelling perspective. Characters motivations aren’t explained. Their attachments aren’t developed: after our immortal beheads a pair of twitchy goggle-faced time traveling punk assassins, he grows forty years younger, which makes potential love interest Madsen throw herself at him and start dry-humping in an alley—they’ve just met and they’re already a couple. To make things even worse, Mulcahy seems to have his heart set on making a comedy instead of an action movie, including sequences with ancient Spaniard Sean Connery interrupting a modern staging of “Hamlet” (which he thinks is real, yuk yuk) and a comic haberdashery montage. Yes, I said “Spaniard Sean Connery”: Connery plays a character named Ramirez, who’s Spanish but speaks with a Scottish accent, while the French Lambert plays a Scotsman named MacLeod, who sometimes sounds like a Frenchman trying to do a Don Corleone impression while he has a small piece of walnut shell caught in his throat. Everything is wrong in this movie, but the most memorable and ill-considered scene has to occur when bad guy Michael Ironside, fresh arrived from the past, commandeers a subway train; for no good reason he uses his magic powers to make it go really fast, exposing the passengers to G-forces so powerful that most of them are violently hurled against the back wall of the train, and causing one guy’s eyes to pop out of his head (?) There are about a dozen reasons this scenario makes no sense, but nothing that happens in Highlander II much resembles our reality. Hell, the goings-on in Highlander II‘s universe are implausible even by the standards of Hollywood action movie reality. Sean Connery would have been embarrassed to appear in this mess, if not for the fact that his fully clothed appearance here was a step up in dignity from his turn in a red diaper in Zardoz. Highlander II is nonsensical, but it’s not boring; you’ll shake your head the whole way through, wondering why producers shelled out tens of millions of dollars for that Industrial Light and Magic blue lightning effect, but not one cent for a continuity supervisor.
Highlander II: The Quickening was the version of the film that played in theaters; in it, the Immortals were aliens from “planet Zeist,” not mystical demigods from Earth’s past. In 1995 Mulcahy re-cut the film to make the “Renegade Version,” adding about twenty minutes of additional footage and removing all references to Zeist. There’s no logical improvement in having the Immortals be time travelers rather than aliens, other than better matching the first film. The Quickening version seen in theaters came out on VHS, but as far as I can tell all DVD releases of the film have been the “Renegade” cut. It’s hard to believe there’s an even more incoherent and illogical version of Highlander II running around out there somewhere.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: