Highlander 2: The Quickening

1991, Movie, R, 91 mins

Review

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Though Russell Mulcahy's HIGHLANDER was not tremendously successful in the United States, its popularity abroad merited a sequel. Made in 1989, HIGHLANDER 2: THE QUICKENING waited two years for US release. Once again helmed by Mulcahy, it is a most unsuccessful follow-up.

The film opens with a variation on the standard dystopian future. Things look grim as the ozone layer dissipates rapidly, exposing the Earth to lethal radiation. But salvation is at hand. Highlander Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), an alien warrior who has traded lonely eternal life for fragile mortality on Earth, helps develop a vast shield that will shroud the planet in artificial darkness and protect it from the sun's deadly rays. We leap another several decades forward, only to find that things haven't worked out quite as well as MacLeod had hoped. A tired old man, he's now trapped in a world where it's always hot and humid but never rains, where society has turned back on itself and people are frustrated and prone to violence.

The shield is administered by the powerful Shield Corporation, which is under attack by a group of ecological terrorists, led by the lovely Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), who have discovered that the shield is no longer necessary--the ozone layer has repaired itself--but is being kept in place by the callous businessmen it has made into multimillionaires. Louise seeks out MacLeod, hoping he'll help her, on the same evening he's attacked by two giggling alien punks sent by the evil General Katana (Michael Ironside), brutal ruler of MacLeod's home planet, Zeist. MacLeod kills the aliens and his youth is restored, as is his despised immortality. In order to become mortal again, he must kill Katana, who obligingly comes to Earth and muscles his way into the Shield Corporation. MacLeod invokes his old mentor Ramirez (Sean Connery), who returns from the dead to help. Together, Ramirez, MacLeod and Louise invade MAX, the high security concentration camp maintained by the Shield Corporation. MacLeod and Katana face off for one last battle, and MacLeod shuts off the shield, exposing the world to the now-healing rays of the sun.

The original HIGHLANDER's story mixed rousing adventure and a romantic sensibility that bordered on the ludicrous, revolving around the exploits of a group of immortals doomed to fight one another through the ages until only one is left alive. Connor MacLeod, a native of the Scottish highlands, hopes to win because the prize is mortality--freedom from the curse of watching everyone he loves grow old and die while he remains young. His arch-opponent lusts for power and dreams of bloodshed, making the contest a clear-cut battle between good and evil, with the fate of the world in the balance.

HIGHLANDER 2's first order of business is to make MacLeod immortal (and, of course, young) again, accomplished with little grace and much expenditure of screen time. A romance with Louise is hastily worked up. Sean Connery's dashing Ramirez--the Highlander's tutor and friend--is brought back for a little color, and a new vile rival is conjured up in the form of Canadian actor Michael Ironside (SCANNERS, TOTAL RECALL), whose gravelly voice and unnaturally even teeth lend themselves to ferocious characterizations. All this is intercut with flashbacks to a failed revolution on Zeist, the cause of MacLeod's exile to Earth, and scenes of corporate villainy designed to delight knee-jerk leftists of all ages.

Mulcahy's background in commercials and music video stands him in good visual stead: HIGHLANDER 2 is beautiful. But it's largely incoherent. The film is desperately overplotted; events and years rush by and pile up like cars in an interstate wreck. It's also terribly overexplained; indicative is the scene in which Louise must recap the sequence of events thus far in a clumsy attempt to set the audience straight. But at the same time, nothing much happens--it's as though the need to explain drained everyone's energy and left none for creating a real story. The lavish, moodily underlit sets are reminiscent of Ridley Scott's BLADERUNNER and other dark futures past, but the fanciful nobility of HIGHLANDER--which against all odds sometimes worked--is entirely absent. The film was "presented" by Ziad El Khoury and Jean-Luc Defiant. (Violence.) leave a comment

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