Skip to main content

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening
(1991)

(SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II’s on YouTube, and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.


In a way, that’s good, as there can be no real defence that the fault lies elsewhere. What was Russell Mulcahy thinking? What was anyone thinking? The screenplay is credited to Peter Bellwood (co-writer of the original) from a story by Brian Clemens (yes, The Avengers Brian Clemens) and William N Panzer (a veritable career of subsequent Highlanding), but the ins and outs of who decided what when seem to be dependent on who you asked at what point. It’s been said the revelation that the Immortals are aliens was a means to get Sean Connery (one time dead Ramirez) back on board, whom Lambert had enjoyed working with on the original. Alternatively, Ramirez wasn’t originally in the film, and Lambert threatened to back out if Sean wasn’t included.


Then there’s the interference of the completion bond company, who took over the film during editing, and wrangling with producers who demanded the addition of elements they thought would make money. It’s been suggested they introduced the planet Zeist element, although this was in the original script. Some of this sounds a lot like passing the buck. Certainly, the major change to the Director’s Cut is excision of references to Zeist, in an attempt to mash together some continuity with the subsequent series. It’s a gesture that entirely flounders. I have to admit, apart from the reference to being sent to the future, it passed me by that they were now intended to come from Earth’s past. Connor and Ramirez being sent through the mists of time makes no more sense than being sent from another planet.


The latter whiffs strongly of looking to Superman for inspiration, both of Highlander as Supes and his various opponents (the Kurgan, Katana) as Zod and his cronies, and of the superpowers imbued on the otherwise mortal beings once in the Earth’s environment. The conception of the sequel goes so wrong on so many levels, but primarily the problem is “How do you continue a complete story?” 


Somehow Connor has to be made immortal again, which requires negating everything he achieved (including happiness, so Brenda is killed off in a perfunctory flashback with a different actress). By revealing the origins of the Immortals the makers also fall into the trap of diminishing the most fascinating element of a good movie mythology; what you don’t know and are able to speculate on is always more evocative (see also Alien/Prometheus, the Star Wars prequels).


Additionally, one of the most attractive elements of the original was the traveller through time element, the protagonist alone and unchanging through the ages. Now the flashbacks are mostly about Zeist or the intervening years until 2024. Not nearly so engrossing. There’s a general overtone of bashing together random elements regardless of whether they worked, simply because they suited someone’s whims. 


So Mulcahy wanted to make his Blade Runner (even though that ship had sailed almost a decade ago), but ended up falling foul of a country (Argentina) where it was hoped the extravagant scope could be achieved on the cheap. Suddenly MacLeod’s an inventor who can rig up a device to save us from the absented Ozone layer because it was considered a good idea to shoehorn in a commentary on one of the big issues of the day (had no one seen Superman IV?)


Louise Marcus: Okay now, let me get this straight. You’re mortal there, but you’re immortal here, until you kill all the guys from there who come here and then you become mortal here. Unless you go there, or some more guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here, again.
Connor MacLeod: Something like that.


Inevitably, the picture (even in original release form) spends a lot of time setting up this new world and retconned history, but then has nothing worthwhile to do with it. There’s no attempt to explain how adult Connor ended up with a Scottish tribe (evidently he’s no longer born into it), but that’s peanuts in the scheme of the nonsense on display. The Zeist/past is a means to bring Ramirez back for an extended cameo ($3.5m to Sean and a sexual harassment suit to boot) and introduce a villain/villains (Michael Ironside’s General Katana), but the plot amounts to little more than Connor proving the Ozone layer shield he set up is no longer needed. 


Sure, there’s some (so subtle) commentary on corporate greed (John C McGinley wants to carry on charging for the shield’s use; couldn’t Connor just design it with an off switch?), but nothing happens for good reason, such that at points it has to resort to commenting on its own stupidity as a kind of double bluff (“He’s an old man now. He’ll be dead in a couple of years” one of Katana’s idiot henchman advises, entirely logically).


Doctor Who’s current showrunner Steven Moffat really ought to be one of the few who adores Highlander II; it makes even less sense than his constant retcons and spuriously reasoned catalogues of plot elements. His predecessor introduced the very Highlander standing up regeneration (just with slightly less orgasmic overtones, surprising really given how keen on innuendo the show has become), of course.


The Quickening takes in a ragbag of elements including Mulcahy’s Wild Boys video, Back to the Future Part II (coincidence, apparently, and there’s the little thing that these hoverboards are really shitty), Dune, The Godfather Part III and the aforementioned Blade Runner. There’s little means to do this well, so the director opts for a proliferation of low angled close-ups to hide the shoestring (for example in a Zeit/past battle scenes). 


Generally the action is threadbare, entirely without urgency or tension (Mulcahy still throws in some wonderfully individual shots throughout, but they're in the service of nothing), from the dual Highlandergasms that restore Connor’s youth, to Katana’s joyride on a subway train (complete with tonally gratuitous gore), to Connor and Ramirez being shot to bits in a car just because they’re, like Immortal. The big fight with Katana is entirely forgettable.


By which point Sean has exited, mostly because they couldn’t afford him any more; that’s really how it feels (“My time here is over” and I need to kill myself in a big fan). We’ve already traversed from incoherent to incoherent and indulgent (anything with Connery in Scotland, although it just about gets a pass for being Connery, really isn’t very good; the staggeringly unfunny appearance mid-Hamlet – shouldn’t it have been the Scottish play? – and the visit to the tailor).


For the first half hour the picture’s sort of tolerable, before the sheer stupidity of what Mulcahy and co have planned has fully unfolded. Lambert’s really enjoying himself doing his Vito Corleone old man act, and there’s much nostalgia for the original (two Queen songs play, and that’s about as close this gets to any kind of mood or atmosphere).


Anything involving Ironside is particularly wretched. He basically admits he took the piss, which isn’t something to be proud of, and his performance isn’t over-the-top in a good way; it’s wholly tiresome, and so fits with the crappy dialogue he and everyone else gets (“After all these years, you’re still a jerk” notes Connor).


I’m not really sure what happened to Virginia Madsen’s movie career (Sideways was a decade ago; I see she’s in David O Russell’s upcoming Joy); I guess it was as simple as a string of bad choices (like this). She plays a good terrorist (you wouldn’t get one of those these days, or they’d call themselves something else; she refutes the accusation), one with humanity’s best interests at heart, who is shagged by Connor just as soon as he gets all randy from beheading a couple of compatriots. She goes to Zeist or stays on Earth with Connor, depending on the version you’ve seen, but in both she’s effectively banished from existence by Highlander III, with Connor’s new totty turning out to be Deborah Unger.


It probably shouldn’t be surprising the Highlander reboot is having so much trouble getting off the ground when the franchise’s history has been plagued by mediocrity (at best). Like The Crow, this seems to be a series where producers/studios are convinced there’s some money in but have little real enthusiasm for milking it. You’re unlikely to get anyone claiming any of the sequels are much cop, only discussing degrees of how bad they are and how much worse a particular instalment is than another. Which is a dubious honour. And yet the premise of the immortal, condemned to see others pass away as he remains every youthful, is a potent and understandably much plundered one. To turn that into a series you probably need more than just the bare bones of the original’s mythology, but you need to avoid the almost wilful incompetence of Highlander II.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.