Highlander II: The Quickening
Reviewed by Steve Crow
Rating: 8.5 Beans
irst of all, a few qualifiers. While I've seen all the various versions, I'm going primarily by the Renegade/Director's Cut here. Also, I'm not too obsessive about the continuity. For the most part, all of the four Highlander movies are set in different realities. So while Highlanders 2-4 are considered "sequels," they're not. And as a final note, High-2 isn't my least favorite of the Highlander movies: that honor goes to the third, which rips off the first movie practically scene for scene. Say what you will about High-2, but at least it has some imagination involved.
Unfortunately, imagination is a poor substitute for coherent script writing. There are some big ideas here, but no one has a clue what they're doing.
In any case, the plot? Check out http://jabootu.com/highlander2.htm for the full, gory details, but be warned I'm a little more forgiving of it then Mr. MacIsaac. A little.
In any case, it's The Future. The world has been encircled by a Shield to protect it from the sun's rays, which pose a menace to mankind due to a weakened ozone layer. Unfortunately, the Shield is no longer necessary and prevents any passage of sunlight, and no one can bring it down. Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), the Highlander from the first movie (sort of) is now an aging and aged mortal. In flashback we discover that he actually came from the "Distant Past" (in the Director's Cut), and was banished to the future because he lead a rebellion against General Katana (Michael Ironside).
Now, with the aid of his resurrected mentor Ramirez (Sean Connery), MacLeod must reclaim his immortality, defeat Katana, get it on with female terrorist Louise Marcus of Flagstaff (Virginia Madsen), and bring down the Shield once and for all.
Now, I'm reasonably forgiving of some of the inexplicable plot holes and unclear dialogue. I think when humans say that Earth will be destroyed they are talking about only themselves, rather then the Earth itself being torn asunder. MacLeod ducks bullets because getting shot and waiting to resurrect is darned inconvenient. And it's possible when MacLeod says something about what happened to him forty years ago, he's talking about the loss of his wife rather then the raising of the Shield twenty-five years ago. Maybe. More on that below.
Even so, there are huge gaping plot holes in this movie that make no sense. Like the Shield. How the heck do you build something that can't be brought down? What's it being powered by? Why can't you turn the power off? How does the Shield Corporation make any money from consumers providing a product that they can't turn off or prevent their "customers" from benefitting from whether they pay or not?!?
Then there's the whole headache-inducing "we become Immortal when we travel into the future" thing that makes no more sense when you use the "Distant Past" rather then an alien planet (maybe even less). Why does Katana bother tracking down an aging, mortal MacLeod? Why do the writers have his lackeys Corda and Reno point out that his plan doesn't make any sense? Why doesn't Katana remember they pointed out it made no sense later when Connor also points out that it makes no sense for Katana to try to kill him as a mortal in the future?
The whole immortality thing makes a little more sense in the Director's Cut once time travel is invoked rather than an alien planet. Katana can let 500 years go by in the future while he only ages a few years, then set out to kill MacLeod. But...if we're to assume that the events of the first movie didn't happen entirely as we know of them (since High-2 ain't a sequel), what DID happen? Why is Connor MacLeod still "the Highlander" if his name MacLeod comes from "the Distant Past"? Did the Dune-ish desert he lived in have Highlands? Why didn't he remember he was a time-traveling Immortal when he was just mortal Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod in the first movie? Or was he EVER a mortal Connor MacLeod? Who can tell?
In a sense, writers Widen and Panzer (backed up by Peter Bellwood and Brian Clemens) cheat. We're somehow supposed to both assume High-2 isn't a direct sequel, and yet there are so many things that are left to your imagination that you can only assume things happened the way they did in the first movie. There must be differences, but nobody bothers explaining what they are. I can buy an alternate movie Highlander where they were sent to 1491 Earth from the past , but then what the heck happened in the 500 years MacLeod and Ramirez spent until the modern day? Who knows? Who cares?
So the folks who produced High-2 can blame the problems on the bean-counters and the insurance companies all they want, but at the end of the day they seemed to be sending out mixed messages from the start.
And the sad thing is, it might've been a cool movie. Taking a concept and totally rewriting it for a "non-sequel" could have worked: it would have at least been different from your typical sequel. But they had to answer some basic questions to pull this off, and they never do. Questions like:
1) Who are the Justices? Why do they have power over Katana and ignore his authority, but still exile Connor the Rebel?
2) How can they exile someone to The Future, and don't they have something better to do with time travel?
3) Were Kurgan, Fasil, and Kastagir (and Yung Dol Kim in the High-1 DVD missing footage) fellow rebels? Rivals? Psychotic criminals?
4) How much of the first movie actually occurred in this continuity? How did Ramirez die? If he was killed by the Kurgan...ummm, why? Was the Kurgan another rebel? If he was, why did he kill Ramirez? Or do the Justices just send any old criminal up the road to the Future?
5) Even if you assume the events of the first movie occurred exactly as we saw, how did Connor become a world-famous millionaire in the 25 years since? He had the gift of knowing minds at the end of the first movie, but he seems to have lost that entirely for this movie.
And so on, but you get the idea. If they had answered these questions (with the time provided by dropping the el lamo sci-fi Shield plot), maybe got the actors who played the Kurgan, Fasil, or Kastagir to make brief cameos, and recreated a few scenes from the original with the new futuristic spin on it, High-2 _might_ have worked.
But back to the movie itself. Christopher Lambert, old and tired, initially plays an old and tired character thanks to what must be 10 pounds of make-up, but he doesn't become much more animated once he regains his immortality back. Sean Connery looks like he's enjoying his contractual obligation and earning a big juicy paycheck for minimum screen time. Virginia Madsen is wasted in a glamor-role that has nothing to do with any of the on-screen action despite the writers' best attempts to make it seem like she is. Michael Ironside, a reliable trooper, doesn't disappoint here. He overacts wildly, but his role is the kind of part that requires he do so. It's not his fault that what his character says and does makes no sense.
The movie itself is dark and gloomy, and looks like they filmed it on the Gotham City set of the first two Tim Burton Batman movies. The special effects are depressingly low budget, and the sword sequences fail to actually use swords most of the time until the end. The final fight is over way too quickly and Katana isn't that impressive an antagonist when it comes time to battle someone who can fight back. But the ending is at least consistent: it makes no more sense then the rest of the movie. MacLeod needs the power of a Quickening to shut down the Shield. Why is giving the Shield MORE power going to shut it down without destroying the Earth? And why do they take the whole movie to do this? They already know the radiation above the shield is "Normal" (Brenda Marcus finds this out in the first 30 minutes of the movie!). Even the Director's Cut scene that involves them making a brief trip above the Shield to check the UV levels makes no sense, since they already KNOW the levels are normal.
About the only good thing about High-2 is Sean Connery's performance. At least he has fun for the approximately 10 minutes that he is on-screen.
If you're a Highlander fan, you're probably not going to like High-2. If you're a science fiction fan, you'll be puzzled by the idiocies and plot holes. If you're just looking for entertainment, you might get a few laughs. Pick this one up at the bargain bin if you can, and avoid anything but the Director's Cut.
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