Retro-Review: Highlander 2: The Quickeningon January 11, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Highlander 2: The Quickening is widely regarded as the perfect example of how not to make a sequel. It’s been accused of being an attempt to cash in on the cult following of the original, spinning a tale practically unrelated to the first. Some would even say contrary. Heck, the producers have even recut it twice since its release and still not quite achieved what they set out to do. But is it really as bad as everyone has made it out to be? And are the Immortals from the Planet Zeist or from A REALLY LONG TIME AGO.
The most readily available version of the movie on DVD is the Special Edition which is basically the Renegade Version with enhanced special effects. My synopsis will draw primarily on the theatrical version, pointing out along the way where the Renegade Version diverges. The story is essentially the same in both versions despite the radically disparate origins of the Immortals.
500 years ago on the Planet Zeist (or just “A LONG TIME AGO” in the Renegade Version), Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) and Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery) led a rebellion against the evil tyrant General Katana (Michael Ironside). After MacLeod is appointed leader of the rebellion, he is swiftly defeated in his first battle, captured, and put on trial for leading said insurrection. Much to General Katana’s chagrin, the Justices at the trial seem fairly sympathetic to to the rebels and decide to simply banish them to to the Planet Earth (or the distant future in the Renegade Version). Why a military dictator would not just summarily execute the rebels or why he would appoint such sympathetic, liberal Justices is unclear. Connor and Ramirez are sent to Earth (or the future), where they are Immortal and the events of the first movie unfold. Dialogue in the original version seems to indicate they are mortal on Zeist, but in the Renegade Version the Justices strongly imply they are Immortal even before they are banished to the future.
In 1999, as the Earth’s ozone layer is depleted, Brenda Wyatt dies from solar radiation poisoning and her husband Connor MacLeod (using his fairly recently acquired Prize-y powers from defeating the Kurgan) leads a team of scientist to create a force field (imaginatively named “the Shield”) around the planet to protect it from the sun’s rays.
In 2015, the company that maintains the shield has become wealthy and corrupt under its president David Blake (John C. McGinley – that’s right! Dr. Cox from “Scrubs”). MacLeod has grown old and tired and lives with the guilt of having helped create the oppressive Shield Corporation in the process of saving the Earth. A terrorist group led by Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), breaks into a Shield Corporation facility and gathers information that indicates that the planet’s ozone layer has repaired itself, while the company has continued to extort the population for money by playing on fears of extinction.
Meanwhile on Zeist (or the distant past), General Katana becomes insanely paranoid that Connor will return and usurp him. He calls on his lackeys Corda and Reno and charges them with traveling to Earth to kill MacLeod. In a moment where the movie seems to parody itself, one of them lampshades a HUGE inconsistency in the General’s motivation by pointing out that MacLeod is mortal and can never return. In return, he gets punched in the face by Katana for asking what the audience probably wants to.
Back on Earth (the future, whatever), MacLeod is attacked by a disgruntled mortal in a bar who harbors a grudge against Connor for “covering the sky with that puke”. Nice. As he leaves, he is harassed by Louise Marcus, now a fugitive who tries to sway MacLeod to her cause. MacLeod turns her away, not wanting to get involved with another revolution. On his way home he is ambushed by Corda and Reno. A fabulously cartoony and violent 2-on-1 fight ensues with MacLeod dispatching them by pushing one off a train and under its wheels, crushing his neck and cutting his head off, and the other by clothes-lining him with a cable as he flies by with his jetpack, sheering his head off. It’s like a “Roadrunner & Wile E. Coyote” cartoon with beheadings and is probably the greatest scene of the movie. As Connor finishes off Katana’s last goon and calls out to Ramirez for help, the ensuing Quickening ends up ricocheting off the Shield and reviving Ramirez in Glasgow. The resurrected Ramirez then embarks on a series of comical mini-misadventures to find his way back to MacLeod. Meanwhile, Katana is somehow aware Corda and Reno failed and departs for Earth to finish Connor himself.
General Katana arrives on Earth by crashing into a subway train which he then hijacks and wrecks, apparently killing all aboard just for fun. I guess every Highlander baddie needs a “Kurgan joy ride” scene just to show that they are, in fact, a villain and not just an adversary. The subsequent half hour or so tends to drag as Connor’s friend Dr. Alan Neyman reveals that the ozone layer has indeed restored itself and Katana ambushes Connor to taunt him. Katana then somehow finds his way to the Shield Corporation’s headquarters and for some reason allies himself with David Blake, and Ramirez finds his way to Connor. Blake has Neyman sent to the Shield Corporation’s maximum security detention center (“Max” for short) when he discovers he has informed MacLeod of the Shield’s redundancy. When Ramirez finally finds MacLeod, they resolve that the Shield has outlived its usefulness and needs to be destroyed, and Connor informs Ramirez that Katana is on Earth and will have to be dealt with as well.
Ramirez, MacLeod, and Louise sneak into Max to try to rescue Neyman and along the way Ramirez gets killed by a giant ceiling fan (all food processor like) when it seems he could have easily escaped. MacLeod finds a severely abused Neyman, just in time for him to succumb to his wounds. Connor and Louise set off for a mountain top Neyman had told him about to confirm (yet again) that the ozone layer had regenerated, only to be pursued (in the Renegade Version at least) by Katana in what the back of the VHS box called “an exciting mountain chase”. Yeah. Exciting.
When Katana fails to kill MacLeod again, Blake rubs it in. The General tires of his snark and kills him. MacLeod and Louise sneak into yet another Shield facility to shut down the generator. Katana intercepts him and a less-than-epic duel ensues, with MacLeod finally taking his head. The Quickening that follows blows up the generator and the Shield peels away from the Earth. Louise and Connor kiss and walk away (or Connor magically floats away back to Zeist apparently, in some TV edits).
Wow. Let’s start with what this movie has going for it. It has Sean Connery reprising his role as Ramirez. He’s awesome as ever and is the source of most of the much-needed comic relief. The special effects are really quite good. (Even the original version. I haven’t seen the Special Edition yet.) Michael Ironside is always a great villain and chews up much scenery in this film. The fight with Corda and Reno is one of my favorite movie action sequences ever. It is hilariously violent, bordering on slapstick at times. I mean hoverboard/jetpack swordfight… how can anything be more awesome?
Now for the bad… and there’s a lot of it. Whether you go with the explanation that the Immortals are aliens from the Planet Zeist or exiles from “a long time ago” (when humans all lived out in the desert in abandoned starships and had mastered time travel) the mystique of the Immortals is destroyed. Having Connery back is great, but it seems he was resurrected just to be the comic relief and very briefly half-ass reprise his mentor role. Michael Ironside’s ruthless performance as General Katana is undermined by the character completely non-sensical motivation. A villain is usually only as interesting as his motivation and intent, and when one of his lackeys points out the HUGE flaw in THE driving motivation behind the plot of the movie, you know you’re in trouble. When Corda gets punched in the face for questioning why Katana would risk going to Earth and making MacLeod immortal again rather just letting him die of old age where he is no danger to him, that is effectively a punch to the face of the audience. A lot of the movie seems like it’s trying to be environmentally relevant, but any coherent message it might have had is lost with the “everything fixes itself” ending. In hindsight, it looks like the film was jumping on the early nineties bandwagon of environmentally-themed entertainment. He’s called Connor MacLeod, not Captain Planet.
The movie is chock-full of two-dimensional stock characters, sadly including some of the fairly major ones. Dr. Alan Neyman is the “buddy” who serves a purpose to further the plot and then dies in an attempt by the writers to give Connor a more personal motivation to fight TSC. David Blake is the “rich jerk” who wants to be richer and more powerful even if it means ruining the world to do so. General Katana tries to come off as a scheming tyrant, but mostly is just a raging maniac. The movie at times becomes a tangled mess of throw-away characters, dead-ending plot twists, half-explanations, and confusing action sequences, in an attempt to make the characters and audience care enough to make it to a pretty unsatisfying ending. In the end, no one cares and most people don’t even know what’s going on.
It’s quite comfortable back here… rather like a coffin. - General Katana
Ramirez (Looking at the Shield) : MacLeod. You created that monstrosity? Why?
Connor : It was necessary at the time.
Ramirez : So was Noah’s flood, but that at least served its purpose, it cleansed the Earth from evil and gave it a fresh start.
Bystander: Hey mister, got a light?
Corda (blasts the guy with flame thrower): BWAH HA HA HA!
So how do I feel about Highlander 2? Well, I was 13 when I first saw it. As such, I’m kinda nostalgic about it. Also I saw it BEFORE the original, so that may be why I don’t find it as big a letdown as most. Not that it isn’t a letdown. This movie is about on par with some of the better direct-to-video science fiction movies of the time. Definitely better than Christopher Lambert’s “Fortress”. Some parts of this movie are really fun, others are funny. Most of it is dreadful. It’s like all the ingredients of a good movie are there, just no one bothers to stir them up and bake anything worthwhile with them. You will not find anything terribly intellectually stimulating in this movie and it will sadly fail to make you believe much that’s happening. If you can turn your brain off and stop asking logical questions, you might find some entertainment value in Highlander 2. If you can’t, then General Katana will punch you in the face.
Personally, I consider Highlander 2 a drug-induced delusion that Connor had while in the Sanctuary in Highlander Endgame, and it is in that context it can be best enjoyed. If you want a dumb, cheesey action movie or love Highlander and are a real completist then pick it up, otherwise you might as well pass this (and Highlander 3: The Final Dimension) over in favor Endgame. (Although a great many fans disregard everything but the first movie).
My grade: D+