The Film: Highlander II: The Quickening BUY IT FROM CHUD!
The Principles: Russell Mulcahy (Director), Christophe Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside
The Premise: Hmm. It’s a sequel to Highlander…and, well…it’s a sequel to Highlander…wherein Connor Macleod uses The Prize – his supernatural understanding of all humans and their minds, hearts and dreams – to aid scientists in the creation of an energy field that will save the earth from radiation poisoning due to the erosion of the ozone layer. For the next twenty-five years, a multinational corporation essentially extorts the entire world to keep the shield in place, and Macleod – now a shriveled elderly – is too broken to do anything about it. That may soon change, however – as Connor discovers (or suddenly remembers) that he is FROM ANOTHER PLANET during a night at the opera. Once the leader of a populist uprising on this other world, Macleod is banished from ZEIST with his comrade Ramirez. The two take up residence on Earth and quickly ignore the idea that they are ALIENS. There they fight other Zeisties until one remains…
…I have no…fucking…idea.
Connor is approached by Louise Marcus (Madsen). Painted by the media as an environmental terrorist, she is in actuality a freedom fighter who believes that the ozone layer has repaired itself and that the shield is no longer necessary. She begs him to help her destroy it, but alas – elderly.
Meanwhile, back on ZEIST, the dickhead who quashed the rebellion – the obviously-monikered General KATANA (Michael Ironside – in a performance so over-the-top that Bill Shatner and Bela Lugosi are like “What the fuck, dude?!”) – decides that knowing his old nemesis is alive, even in prune form, is infuriating enough to send minions (Corporal Daito and Private Tanto, perhaps?) to Earth to kill him – despite the fact that he simply MUST know that sending them will begin the immortality cycle anew, giving Macleod a new lease on life.
But he sends the assassins, they wind up dead, and Macleod gets his groove back when he is dosed with their energies (THE QUICKENING!). Now he just needs to call Ramirez back from the dead (by yelling RAMIREZMYOLDFRIENDRAMIREZ*) and help Michael Madsen’s kid sister smash the shield.
Is It Good: Under no circumstances, nor by any mode of thought or method of measure can Highlander II: The Quickening be considered a “good” film – but how could a follow-up to Highlander have been anything but a mess? There was simply nowhere to go. By the end of the first film, Connor has defeated the last immortal, and The Prize has been won. He’s now human and happy, having found a woman to share his life with. How in the hell do you move forward from there?
You tell an “untold story,” that’s how – and the origin of the immortals certainly qualifies. After all – fans had been speculating on where they came from for years…
It turns out we didn’t want that question answered. It happens sometimes. We didn’t want to meet Darth Vader when he was eight…didn’t want to know what Robin Hood was like before he learned to knock an arrow (turns out he was a lot like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, but beefier), nor did we really want to know where the Xenomorphs from Alien came from (man, it seems like Ridley Scott is hellbent on filling in all the gaps, isn’t he?)…nor did we want to be told of Connor Macleod’s Zeistial origins.
“Zeist”. Just say it. It ranks right up there with “Itchy Trigger-Fingered Greedo” on the list of “Dumbfuck Movie Moments” (All this week on VH-1!).
So yeah, Highlander II is wrecked. Add some horrifyingly amateurish effects work, arbitrary pacing, abrupt editing, and sets that look like they pulled some of Anton Furst’s Batshit out of a dumpster in Hertfordshire in 1989, and you have one of the most disappointing times I’ve ever spent in a theater. Where was Russell Mulcahy’s opulent and operatic visual style? Where was the sweep and scope? The swashbuckling romanticism? The time spanning narrative? Why was this such an ungodly mess?
Turns out that the original cut of the film was so paint-by-numbers slapdash because the production was tortured enough to warrant the completion guarantors’ stepping in and wresting control from the filmmakers. They edited the film in arbitrary (and linear) fashion. Subplots were introduced and dropped, and unfinished effects shots were used in the final cut – Highlander II received a Fuckening.
An attempt to correct this hackery was made in 1994 (and amended a decade later in a special edition DVD release), with the even-more-ludicrously-titled-than The Quickening-The Sorcerer-or-The Magician Highlander 2: THE RENEGADE VERSION. Meaning it must have escaped, right?
Not so much an attempt to present the flick in continuity with the rest of the films so much as it was an attempt to make it watchable in the slightest, the “Renegade Version” has been noticeably re-cut, and now works something like this:
The year is 2024. Connor Macleod is a doddering old man. During a night at the opera, he is racked by disturbing visions of a war he fought hundreds of years ago…
What? Yeah. The movie starts with the opera house shenanigans, not with the raising of “The Shield”. We learn right away that Mulcahy – in a way that could be considered poetic – mirrors the beginning of the original Highlander (,it was argued at the time of the first film’s production that a wrestling event at Madison Square Garden, was “low-class” – here the Colon Opera House is depicted as a crumbling ruin with a leaky roof). In a perfect (yet more deliberate and elegant) recreation of the dynamic skycam shot from the first film, we meet an aged Macleod at a SHIELD CORPORATION event – “In the presence of Alan Neyman”…
Who is Alan Neyman? What is the Shield Corporation? In the original film, we’re told – in a hasty voice over – right at the start. Here, the tale is given a little time to play out – to craft some intrigue. During the opera, Macleod begins having visions of an ancient war. The opera parallels this slightly epic battle – as the wrestling was used to parallel the insane and sloppy combat of the Clan Macleod in the first film.
Five minutes in, and were already closer in tone to the first film.
Turns out Macleod is dealing with what are essentially repressed memories of an ancient civilization’s sociopolitical upheaval. Instead of a Connery voice-over that explains everything, we’re given only a cryptic “Remember…?”
Christophe emotes fear, shock and dread through his stippled liver spots, and – once the opera is finished – shares a bit of dialogue with an usher that lets us know that HE ALREADY KNOWS WHAT’S COMING. He feels…The Quickening (The Renegade Version).
He “remembers” that it’s not space he’s traveled – but time. As rebel leaders, Macleod and Ramirez are banished into the future – so that their seditious activities can’t affect the timeline of the world they know.
Of course, this doesn’t account for how both men talk in the first film of lives they led as younger men – but hey – it’s Highlander II. It’s never gonna’ not suck. It can only suck less.
Meanwhile, his old nemesis Captain Colichemarde watches from the future, haunted and taunted by the fact that our favorite Scottish Frenchman still wheezes. He grins and mugs – and in the end, looks kinda’ Jack Nicholson in a “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves”-era Cher wig – and sends minions (who protest his decision like smart minions would) into the future to kill the raisin.
They arrive, one of them is accidentally decapitated by train, and Christophe’ ditches the old guy make-up and rumbles with the ‘wipes in what – even in the theater back in the day – was the coolest part of the movie: The hoverboard/flying guy dogfight. Pretty well-done, it remains – you almost never see the wires.
The film unfolds from there with as much gusto as can be mustered, as Macleod is comically incensed by ignorance all around him – he tells Major Main Gauche that he just wanted to die, but it was HIS stupidity that made him immortal again. He chats with the head of The Shield Corporation (the always-wonderful John C. McGinley, simultaneously slumming and hamming), and basically tells him – face-to-face – that he’s gonna’ take down the shield.
And of course…Connery comes back. Connery always comes when you call him.
And, unfortunately – so will I. As long as my head is attached to my body, I’ll always heed the call of the Clan Macleod, Zeist help me.
Is It Worth A Look: I’d wouldn’t have written about it if I didn’t think it was worth checking out on some level. There’s a really interesting lesson to be learned about filmmaking when you compare the multiple versions of the film. You really get to see how the post-production process is a kind of magic.
On a purely cinematic level, there are a couple of moments of ooh and/or ahh to be had within the film. Every once in awhile, Mulcahy seems invested and energized, and a well-crafted set piece is the immediate result.
And it cannot be overstated: the insanity of Michael Ironside’s performance is unparalleled. John C. McGinley seems to try to match him face-for-face, but he can’t compete with Ironside, resplendent in his shoulder-padded duster and wig-do.
Random Anecdotes: The Argentinean production was so tortured by that country’s economic collapse that the crew toiling on the film demanded to be paid in American currency, and refused to accept any check or promissory note – which meant the producers brought cash to the set every day under armed guard, and paid everyone with American $100.00 bills…Christophe Lambert is nearly blind without his glasses, and he nearly hacked off one of Michael Ironside’s phalanges during a swordfight.
Sean Connery worked on the film for nine days. He was paid nearly four million dollars.
Cinematic Soulmates: Zardoz, Total Recall, Cocoon: The Return, Another Stakeout, The Whole Ten Yards, and any other sequel you can think of that never should have existed.
*This does not actually summon Sean Connery. I’ve been trying for years.