Monday, March 8, 2010

Highlander (The Series)

Highlander (1986) 
* * *1/2

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Beatie Edney

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Lambert stars as a mild mannered New Yorker (from Scotland, though his French accent would indicate otherwise) who harbors a secret, in which he has been alive for the last 500 or so years and that the time of the gathering has come in which immortals of his ilk battle in a immortal combat in which an immortal can only be killed by decapitation and the prize for winning such immortal combat is the knowledge of everything including the ability to read minds as well as the ability to live a normal life and have children. Highlander leaves a lot unexplained, in particular is what makes an immortal, why they are compelled to fight each other throughout the years and why decapitation is the only way to put an immortal on ice. However Highlander works out of sheer momentum. Highlander has excellent pacing, great action sequences, a great Queen soundtrack and a lot of fun training montages with great chemistry between Lambert and Connery. Indeed Highlander has such a wonderful look, an intriguing idea (no matter how unexplained) and energy to spare. Highlander then is a (cult) classic because it is such a bizarre movie made with so much flair. Also it must be noted are the performances of Lambert, Connery and Brown. Indeed Lambert while not a great actor, does have lots of charisma which helps the story out (you really can’t ask for a better cynical hero) while Brown provides appropriate menace to what could’ve easily been the most ridiculous bad guy, indeed with his Mad Max-like presence Brown gives the evil immortal a larger than life feel that overall keeps the momentum going. However the best performance of all is from Connery who makes a great mentor, and holds his own fairly well in the action sequences. Indeed without Connery the film would’ve probably been a failure (an interesting failure but still a failure) but because the training montage works, the action sequences are so great and so much feels at stake Highlander succeeds. Indeed you take away the sword and sorcery and you have the blue print Shaw Brothers kung fu movie, as the formula is the same but this in my opinion is a good thing. Another plus is Mulcahy’s style and scope which makes the action memorable and well worth seeing. However like all good things, Hollywood made sequels and all of them have been failures, indeed it was ironic how the catchphrase “There can be only one” became true of  this series, as this is the only one worth seeing.

Highlander 2: Renegade Version (1991) * * 

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, John C. McGinley

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Highlander 2 the renegade version is probably the best sequel of the bunch (Not saying much) but it’s still a highly disappointing movie. Indeed while Mulcahy tries hard to patch up what went wrong, he doesn’t succeed because it’s blatantly obvious that any back story doesn’t work as it contradicts the whole ending of part 1. Continuity is of course not this series’ strength and while Highlander 2: Renegade somewhat salvages what was wrong with the Quickening, the main problem is that the film is wholly unnecessary. That said there is some merit that can be found, for one the look of the film is fantastic. The sword fights are well choreographed and once again Lambert and Connery work well (even if Connery is playing it by the numbers) Also Madsen is hot and the best love interest in the series. Indeed the one thing that gets Renegade into passable territory is in fact the depth between Lambert and Madsen that provides some genuine warmth to a movie that feels artificial. Which is precisely the problem, the future looks cool, the special effects are decent and the fight sequences are well put together but where as I was engrossed in Lambert’s plight in the first, with this one I could care less. Things aren’t helped by Michael Ironside, a typically great actor who overdoes it. Indeed had Ironside played it in a stoic and mean spirited way (which is the type of villain Ironside excels at) you might have had some stakes being played, unfortunately he becomes unbearable in his hammy antics. The train massacre in particular is just plain silly. The film also fails to give a credible reason on why Connery is able to come back but once again the movie would’ve been worse without Connery so I appreciate them doing so, although one figures they could’ve used him in flashback mode or something. Regardless of the patch up Mulcahy still has turned a terrible movie into mediocrity. I think what really worked against this franchise is that the first one didn't leave itself open for a sequel, so any attempt at such is going to come off as uninspired and forced. There is also some nonsense about a shield and a corporation but once again it’s in the background for the immortal combat and it doesn’t gel. Indeed Highlander 2 in general just doesn’t gel.

Highlander 3:The Final Dimension (1994) *

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Kara Unger, Mako

Directed by Andy Morahan

So, it turns out that there was one immortal left who has been in suspended animation who battles Lambert in a (deadly dull) fight to be the best. This time Lambert has an adopted son, who is put in peril and Van Peebles can morph as he is a sorcerer and despite some interesting ideas the film is too cheaply made and boring to work. Actually Highlander 3 might’ve worked had Russell Mulcahy directed it, as his scope and visceral directing would’ve been energetic enough to make the concept work. Once again it might’ve worked. However in the hands of the dull Morahan such just doesn’t. Highlander 3 is made with complete indifference. The swordfights are okay but lack the spark from the first and once again we could care less who wins because we don’t care enough about the plot to care. It’s bizarre in that this sequel is the only one in the Highlander canon that makes sense, as it does in fact work in continuity but unfortunately the film just doesn’t have the right director for the job. Indeed the biggest flaw is just how cheap the movie looks and how badly paced this film is. Meanwhile Lambert looks utterly bored with the material, while Van Peebles is laughable in his attempt at creating swaggering menace. Highlander 3 is a very boring movie and that ultimately is its biggest crime.

Highlander: Endgame (2000) * *

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Adrian Paul, Bruce Payne, Donnie Yen, Edge, Lisa Barbuscia, Beatie Edney, Jim Byrnes

Directed by Douglas Aarnikoski

Another sequel that (surprise, surprise) contradicts everything that came before it. The story though this time is different than usual as Lambert and Paul figure which one of them needs to die in order for them to have enough quickenings (I guess this would be points, which are now tracked on computer) to stand a chance against a cheating immortal (Payne) who has the most and ergo is systematically torturing Lambert by killing his loved ones. Actually Highlander Endgame sort of works, indeed I was sort of into the movie and into Lambert’s plight. Payne is the best villain since The Kurgan, there is a sense of revenge that fuels the movie and likewise the film sets up everything to formula but in a consistent and watchable way. Then the film carries on with Adrian Paul killing of Lambert to take on Payne and right there it became dull, as Paul and Payne aren’t set up as the enemies, a far better film would’ve had Lambert decapitating Paul and then getting vengeance and it all would’ve worked as a prequel. Of course by doing it this way, the film became contradictory to the first and ergo it doesn't work. The fight sequences are actually better than usual, Lambert does surprisingly well in mentoring Paul in the flashbacks and of course Lambert sells the grizzled burned out hero, Paul though is terrible (as expected) and it just loses momentum by having him the focus of the story. Payne is once again a good villain, as is Donnie Yen but the film just doesn’t work due to the stupidity of killing Lambert off. I know Paul was the heir to the series for future sequels, but he was obviously no spring chicken and at this point did anyone really want another sequel and if you were to make a sequel you could always make it predate Endgame. The film is pretty much what you would expect from such a series sequel and this time there is a surreal energy to it all but it’s just another needless sequel made by filmmakers who should’ve left well enough alone, or at the very least showed consistency.

Highlander: The Source (2007) ½*

Cast: Adrian Paul, Jim Byrnes, Christian Solimento, Thekla Reuten

Directed by Brett Leonard

Highlander :The Source is hands down one of the most incompetently made movies ever made, indeed it is but one of the worst movies ever made as well but overall this disastrous outing isn’t just a disgrace to the first but also to even The Quickening version, which is pretty sad. The film this time deals around immortals finding the one responsible for immortal combat which is “The Guardian” the gate keeper or something. The film doesn’t make any sense which I pretty much expected but what I wasn’t expecting is just how badly made and completely inept this film is. Where as the others in this uninspired series (the first aside) at least had some surreal moments of ambitious energy as well as usually watchable fight sequences, this film has lame choreography that wouldn’t pass muster in an Ator movie. The film of course is all witless gibberish that never builds any momentum (especially since it makes so little sense) while the villain in question overacts in such a matter that he makes Ironside and Van Peebles seem like Clancy Brown from the first. Indeed the biggest problem is the character of The Guardian because he can move around fast and stuff and yet he remains easily the weakest and stupidest villain. There are some numerous sequences that set up pointless exposition to set up a would-be threat but the film is so indifferent to the would-be battles and even more inept at simple mise-en-scene in that the movie is just ugly to look at and embarrassing to watch. The Source as it is, is completely lifeless and dull so it’s not even funny to mock. It’s just chintzy, lazy and unwatchable. Paul who is half the actor Lambert was (and Lambert was no De Niro) seems disinterested as if his heart isn’t in it, and he gives a performance that expresses the contempt he has for this movie , though I doubt it’s as much contempt as I have for The Source. This movie is just horrible. I don't want to stress just how incompetent this garbage is, but also how boring it is, in that it is pure torture to sit through and even fans of this series (if any are left) will be disgusted at how horrid this movie is.


  1. Agree with you about this series, Highlander (the original one, the first one) is truly the only really good one of the bunch.

    And this film series is ripe and I mean that sincerely, for a remake, or a reboot. I mean, if somebody out there simply took The Highlander series and reworked it, made some sense out of it and explained things....this thing could be freaking huuuuge!

    The premise and universe presented to us on the first film has such promise, and to me, the whole thing has simply remained unexplored. Not properly anyways. Im a huge fan of this film. Its fun, well directed and I love the fact that a huge part of the story remains a mystery.

    Sadly, the sequels made a mess and went in a completely unexpected and unnecesary direction. Highlander 2 should not have been about Highlander going up against an evil corporation, it should have explored the inmortal angle better, not complicate it with time travel or interdimensional travel or whatever the fuck it is that they did on that movie.

    Part III, IV and V of this series dont exist for me.

    The Source was so painful to watch. I mean, its such a freaking atrocity.

    This series begs to be resurrected properly!

  2. But you know what, At least The Quikening, inspite of all of its flaws, is still a fun watch for me. I love that whole thing with those dudes flying around with those skateboard things...

    And I enjoyed Ironsides over the top train sequence, that shit was insane. I also liked Sean connery and the comedic tone of his character. But that comedy felt so out of place on this series!

    The Quickening was a fun but uneven mess of a film. Still, it remains watchable. I dont know if I enjoy the renegade version more then the theatrical version. i think I still enjoy the theatrical one a bit more.

  3. Well you can't even find The Quickening anymore (Sorry for the late reply, I really have to check such comments better than I do) it's all Renegade. Highlander 2 is the best sequel and part of that is because Director Russell Mulcahy knows how to put flair into anything. Endgame had it not killed of Lambert might've been the best, but the problem there is that they wanted Paul to take over, as Lambert was up there in age, but really were there any fans left at such a point.

    I agree about the reboot, Though I doubt it'll be anything on the original, I think it all goes back to the actors and director making Highlander the classic it was.