WFTB Score: 5/20
The Plot: An archaeological dig in Japan inadvertently unleashes a 400-year old warrior, determined to use his magical powers to destroy Connor MacLeod and claim The Prize. MacLeod, surprised to find he still has immortal adversaries, travels the world to fight the battle for his life and that of his adoptive son.
Even the most fervent admirers of the original Highlander would own up to it having flaws, for example Sean Connery’s Spanish-Egyptian-Scotsman Ramirez, or the very obvious wires visible in the big finale. Nonetheless, the combination of driving rock and decapitation proved a big enough draw to justify Mulcahy’s poorly-received Highlander II: The Quickening and this alternative sequel by music video director Andy Morahan.
Alternative? Perhaps wisely, Highlander III completely ignores the ‘home planet’ scenario of the second film, starting its tale after the death of MacLeod’s first wife Heather. The great sorcerer Nakano teaches Connor MacLeod (again played by funny-sounding Christopher Lambert) not to trust illusions, as well as a natty disarming trick that comes in useful later on. When village-burning Attila the Hun-alike Kane (Mario Van Peebles) comes seeking the sorceror’s power, the Highlander flees and their re-acquaintance is delayed until present-day New York.
Although Highlander III explains why everything is not as it appeared at the end of Highlander, it is hamstrung by the first film nonetheless. This is because Morahan opts to slavishly copy the original, often replaying whole sections of it as a reminder, at other times copying its tricksy editing between scenes. From Van Peebles’ imitation of Clancy Jones’ Kurgan to Deborah Unger’s approximation of Brenda, there is little here that doesn’t feel like a re-hash. And it has to be said, the NYPD detectives portrayed here are possibly the lamest in movie history.
Plotlines not borrowed from the first film are naff. Connor has an adopted son of no interest other than as hostage material, and there’s a diversion into Revolutionary France which is completely unnecessary other than to establish attraction between Lambert and Unger’s archaeologist (the dress colour must be a nod to Coppola’s Dracula); there is a scene in the mental ward of a hospital featuring someone who genuinely thinks he’s Napoleon; there is the following classic dialogue:
‘Scotland? That’s a long way from Japan.’
After swords and sorcery in New York, MacLeod travels to the highlands to regain his strength and beat out a new sword with anvil hammers and a huge whetstone that have been waiting centuries for his return. A long training sequence follows, looking like an advert for the Scottish Tourist Board; incongruously, hard upon that comes a sex scene so fiercely erotic, so well lit and shot with so much attention to detail, you suddenly realise that the rest of the film looks so cheap because the director was saving the budget and his energies for this scene alone. This must be the explanation for the film then reverting to scene-borrowing, Kane repeating Kurgan’s crazy car driving and the final fight taking place in one of those Terminator-type factories that appear to produce nothing but fire.
Ultimately, even though it’s all a bit crass and there is nothing here that hasn’t been done better in other films, taken on its own merits as a low-budget fantasy Highlander III is not a complete washout. The swordplay is engaging, the pace trots along and elements of sorcery, inconsistently applied though they are, add a little extra. But Highlander films? There should have been only one.