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…

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

A man who doesn't love easily loves too much.

Twin Peaks 2.17: Wounds and Scars
The real problem with the last half of the second season, now it has the engine of Windom Earle running things, is that there isn’t really anything else that’s much cop. Last week, Audrey’s love interest was introduced: your friend Billy Zane (he’s a cool dude). This week, Coop’s arrives: Annie Blackburn. On top of that, the desperation that is the Miss Twin Peaks Contest makes itself known.

I probably don’t mind the Contest as much as some, however. It’s undoubtedly lame, but it at least projects the season towards some kind of climax. If nothing else, it resolutely highlights Lynch’s abiding fascination with pretty girls, as if that needed any further attention drawn to it.

Special Agent Cooper: You made it just right, Annie.
I also like Heather Graham’s Annie. Whatever the behind the scenes wrangles that led to the disintegration of the Coop-Audrey romance (and it will be rather unceremoniously deconstructed in later Coop comments), it’s certainly the …