Highlander II: The Quickening
directed by Russell Mulcahy
(RCA, 1991)

And things had started out so well.

But the second installment in the Highlander movie series failed miserably to live up to the standards of its forebear. I don't know what director Russell Mulcahy, who did so well the first time around, was thinking.

This Highlander has been transformed from the centuries-spanning fantasy of the first film to a science fiction travesty. The immortals, once a mysterious race without specific origin, are now criminals banished to Earth from the far-off war-torn planet Zeist ... a place where criminals are given immortality as a punishment, go figure. Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) and Juan Ramirez (Sean Connery) are Zeist rebels who lead a failed uprising and are sent to Earth as prisoners. Why they land there several centuries apart, and why MacLeod, at least, has no memory of Zeist once he's there is never explained. Why the evil General Katana (a scenery-chewing Michael Ironside) decides centuries later to hunt down and kill MacLeod -- who'd been living peacefully on Earth, causing no trouble at all as the only surviving immortal -- isn't explained either. And if the Zeistians only become immortal when they're sent to Earth, why is Katana still alive, anyway? And who picked such a stupid name for him, given that MacLeod uses a katana to fight?

Sigh. The movie begins with MacLeod old and lonely. (The "prize" of the previous movie was the gift of mortality, so he's old now.) It's 2024 and the Earth is surrounded by an energy shield to block dangerous ozone rays. MacLeod, who apparently gave up both swordfighting and antique dealing once the Kurgan was dead and became a leading scientist instead, helped develop the shield once his wife died from the hazardous rays.

Now the Earth is a sad place, without sunlight. Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) is an eco-terrorist committed to bringing down the shield, which she contends is no longer needed. And David Blake (John C. McGinley) is the nefarious corporate leader who knows the shield is good for business and will do anything to anyone to keep it up.

Marcus seeks out MacLeod for his help, MacLeod is attacked by a silly pair of Zeist assassins and, with the return of other immortals to Earth, he is restored to youth. Katana decides to take care of MacLeod by himself, Ramirez is restored to life (don't ask) and Katana ends up allied (for a while, anyway) with Blake.

There's some good swordfighting in there, and the film might have made it as a cheesy sci-fi diversion if they hadn't tied it to the Highlander story. There is a director's cut ("Renegade") version with additional scenes, and the rearranged order of some events does make for a better flow. (They also eliminate mention of the planet Zeist, leaving viewers to guess if MacLeod is exiled from another world or Earth's own past or future.) But the best thing to do if you want another dose of Highlander is to ignore Highlander II and watch the first movie again.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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