Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for violence, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 91 min. (109 director's cut)
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Michael Ironside, Virginia Madsen, Sean Connery, John C. McGinley, Allan Rich
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Screenplay: Peter Bellwood
Review published January 27, 2003
Although I did see the original theatrical release back in 1991, with high hopes I might add, I left the theater feeling extremely disappointed. This was no longer the Highlander I remember, and even though it did try to give an origin to the first film, it was so laughably bad that I completely rejected Highlander II: The Quickening as an attachment to the first, mostly because it totally ignored the first film and contradicted it in ways that couldn't be reconciled.
Now comes the era of DVD, and there are directors cuts, remixes, alternate versions, and revisits galore, as directors who felt dissatisfied due to budget constraints or disagreements with the studios finally get to go back and make their flawed films better. Highlander 2: The Renegade Version is one such director's cut, restoring 16 minutes of footage and additional scenes which were re-scripted or just added altogether, which promises to be a more satisfying and complete experience, particularly because much of the contradictory origin is excised. While it may be true that this is a better version, it by no means is a good film regardless of how much tweaking went on. The Quickening was a concept so bad, delivered so ineptly, that nothing can be done to make it better save to completely start from scratch and do everything possible not to replicate a thing.
Highlander II is set in the year 2025, where the ozone layer has been depleted to the point where a permanent shield has been set up to keep life on Earth from dying out, an invention designed by none other than the Highlander himself, the now mortal and old, Conner MacLeod (Highlander: The Final Dimension). Although this move clearly saved the world, the human inhabitants aren't so peachy about living under the orange skies and murky low-lit environs that is the Earth today, but there is a radical crew of "terrorists" who are convinced the shield is no longer necessary, because the ozone has reformed itself. Assassins are sent in from the past to kill MacLeod, but their presence convert him back to immortal, and with the help of his mentor, Ramirez (Connery, The Hunt for Red October) in magic form, the duo confront their deadliest nemesis yet, General Katana (Ironside, Total Recall). Katana allies himself with David Blake (McGinley, Point Break), controller of the corporation which maintains the shield, while MacLeod has hooked up with the sexy leader of the terrorists, Louise Marcus (Madsen, Candyman). It's an all-out battle for the Earth's future and the immortals past, as once again, there can be only one.
The problems are multitudinous, starting with a ridiculous idea for the origin of the immortals themselves. In the theatrical release, the immortals are visitors from another planet sent to Earth in exile, which the new director's cut mostly eschews, thankfully. However, having them come from a mythic past isn't any more plausible, and although it isn't as contradictory as the original version, it certainly ruins the mystique that the original film had, especially in the ham-handed way in which it is revealed. No explanation on how they originally had the names they did, or why everyone in the land they come from have different dialects. Paradoxically, the conceivers of this half-baked crock have forced a situation where the more things are explained, the more confusing it all becomes.
The scenes of Earth's future fare no better, as the gargantuan architecture is impressive alright, but the poor cinematography, bad lighting, and awkward direction makes for a rather ugly time at the movies. In addition to New York City looking nothing like itself, Christopher Lambert's old man performance may be the worst in cinematic history. Not only does he look bad, but Lambert's high-pitched old man voice may be the most annoying you'll ever hear, sounding even more grating than the one used by Adam Sandler as Whitey in 8 Crazy Nights. Then there are the eccentric looking assassins, flying around on wings and boards that serve no justice to the notion that they are indeed from the past, while they sword fighting sequences are so stiffly choreographed, you'll wonder if they didn't film them in slo-mo.
The only real scenes where Highlander II comes to life is anytime Sean Connery is onscreen. Then, and only then, the film is funny, vibrant and given the panache to actually transcend the misguided plotting to give us all a wink and a nod of self-effacing humor. Unfortunately, he occupies too little screen time, which has given way to Lambert's brooding and Ironside's over-the-top hamming, neither of which is remotely appealing in the slightest.
With weak villains, unappealing actors, a laughable plot, and a reckless disregard of almost everything that made the first film so exciting, Highlander II will forever go down in my mind as one of the most disappointing sequels in history. It's a film so un-Highlander-ish, that the next two films and the television series carried on as if it never actually existed. Anyone who has seen and enjoyed the first film will too. Only worth watching for those with the strongest of curiosities, or perhaps the most masochistic.
In the end...there should have been only one.
©2003 Vince Leo