WFTB Score: 3/20
The plot: Having used the wisdom of The Prize to create a shield that saves an ozone layer-less Earth from the sun, former immortal Connor MacLeod is growing old and weary. However, not-so-chance meetings with a female agitator and a pair of troublesome assassins set the Highlander on a path against his old company, and further meetings with a very old friend and an equally ancient foe.
There are just as many people who found the original Highlander a pile of silly, overblown tosh as those who thought it a fantastic rock-and-swords instant classic. One thing they would all have to agree on, however, was that it tied up its ends very nicely – Connor MacLeod was definitely, definitively mortal, for he told us so; and his friend and mentor Ramirez most assuredly dead, his head having been removed by Kurgan back in the sixteenth century.
It is only right, then, that at the start of Highlander II MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is ageing, his invention of a planet-saving shield coming at the expense of plunging the world – or at least the two streets of it that we see – into eternal darkness, triggering the social breakdown that always goes with it (think Blade Runner, only with much cheaper effects). Instead of rock and wrestling, MacLeod now goes in for opera; in his box, he suffers a flashback to his meeting with Ramirez (Sean Connery) on their home planet of Zeist, where their rebellion saw them expelled to Earth by nasty eel-crusher General Katana (Michael Ironside). On Earth, of course, they are immortals and…
‘Hang on,’ you may now be saying; ‘Home planet? Home planet? They said nothing about home planet in the first film!’ You’re right of course, but this is the excruciating device used to wrench MacLeod back into good-looking immortality when he simultaneously runs into pretty terrorist Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), trying to prove that the Shield Corporation is holding the world to ransom, and a pair of demented Zeistians whom Katana has sent to kill him. Quite why they arrive in 2024 rather than at any point since MacLeod arrived on Earth is a mystery, but Connor dispatches them and, during some massive explosions, becomes his old immortal self. It should be noted that this long battle is accompanied by a light orchestral score, which although vibrant entirely fails to generate the excitement of Highlander’s Queen-tastic soundtrack.
MacLeod predictably gets it on with Louise, rather unfairly making her explain the plot to him back at his place; but they are interrupted by Ramirez, who due to the ‘Quickening’ bond between the immortals has been called back into life. Connery appears to have insisted on a minimum of physical work and a maximum of suavity, whilst emphasising his Scottishness at every turn; considering his character’s full name is Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez this is daft, but it was daft in the original so let it be. The trio combine to battle the Corporation, run by insanely callous David Blake (played with relish by John C. McGinley) until it is taken over by Katana, who travels to Earth to cause mayhem in full Kurgan-copying mood. Our heroes break into the MAX prison where a sequence of stunts and big fights ensue.
In a sense, it’s not so much the absurdity of the plot and the fact that it stamps over the first film that grates; after all, if we can accept immortals, we should be able to accept that they perhaps come from elsewhere and that there is a kind of magic which enables them to return from decapitation. No, the problem with Highlander II is that it is a horrible piece of film-making, not just in terms of lazy acting and bargain-basement effects, but also in terms of balance and pacing. Connery’s extended scenes (the light relief, supposedly) are tiresome; and the action scenes are uninvolving, Mulcahy showing none of the flair he exhibited in the original movie. The whole affair is cheap and stodgy, with Madsen given precious little to do and even Lambert doing the minimum of sword-wielding until the film comes to its sudden close (my VHS version runs at about 86 minutes, of which more below). The bad guys are the most interesting characters on show, but given that they merely get slightly better post-killing one-liners than the good guys, this isn’t saying much.
Defenders of Highlander II – there are some – will point to the fact that the film’s backers, in a Blade Runner-style panic, messed about with the film considerably in order to cobble together something financially viable; and that Mulcahy hated the film so much that he wanted his name taken off the credits, later producing a much longer re-cut ’Renegade’ version of the movie which went into greater detail about Zeist. However, given the nature of the footage on display, it would be amazing if any version of the film could be made that wasn’t complete cobblers. Certainly, all other versions of Highlander, including Highlander III, disown this one completely, though the second sequel fails for different reasons. No doubt most of the cast and crew would love to disown it too.