Tag: "highlander"

Film Review: Highlander: Endgame

The following review contains spoilers for the first three Highlander films and the television series.

#

What do you do after your 1986 movie achieves cult status? Well, if you’re lucky, you get to make a sequel. When that sequel bombs, you get to make another sequel. If the third film bombs, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get your intellectual property turned into a TV series that gets passable ratings and hangs around for six years — long enough to justify a fourth film in the series.

In other words… someone made Highlander: Endgame, the fourth movie in the series. And I watched it. More than once.

Although set in 2002*, four years after the end of Highlander: The Series, the film actually begins in 1992, when Connor MacLeod arrives at his New York shop/apartment just in time to see it blown up, taking the life of Rachel Ellenstein, the young girl he adopted during (I believe) World War II. Devastated that he’s lost everyone he loves, Connor joins up with the Watchers, a group dedicated to chronicling the lives of the immortals, and agrees to go into the Sanctuary. There, the Watchers keep several immortals out of The Game (the worldwide headhunting competition with a nebulous “prize” to go to the last survivor) so that no one can be the last.

Now, in 2002, Duncan MacLeod (Connor’s cousin and friend) is still secluded, meditating, trying to find himself after (in the series) killing his protege Richie and getting the It’s a Wonderful Life treatment from Roger Daltrey**. He has a prophetic dream and visits his friend Methos, the oldest Immortal on the planet, before heading to New York to see if he can figure out what happened to Connor ten years ago. Way to wait around, my friend.

Meanwhile, the villain of the piece, Jacob Kell, goes to the Sanctuary and kills all the immortals there with the exception of Connor — I’m still not sure how he escaped, or who let him free. Kell is powerful and ruthless, and he hates Connor for killing his mentor, while Connor hates him for killing his mother. Kell and his guys go to New York and face off against Duncan, but the only death is from Kell, who kills one of his henchmen. Shortly after, Duncan is sent to the Sanctuary, only to be rescued by Methos and his (Duncan’s) Watcher, Joe Dawson. They explain that Kell has killed 661 Immortals, more than Duncan and Connor combined.

Eventually it’s revealed that Connor is still alive. We see several adventures of Connor and Duncan in the past, including when Connor taught Duncan the “unbeatable move” — one would think he’d have used that at some point in the last three films. But anyway. Things come to a head between the MacLeods and Kell, and as we know, there can be only one.

In addition to a spectacularly-ancient-looking Christopher Lambert as the supposedly-immortal Connor MacLeod, Shelia Gish and Beatie Edney reprise their roles (however brief) as Rachel and Heather (the latter being Connor’s first wife, from the 1500s). However, top billing goes to Adrian Paul, star of the Highlander television series, now sporting short hair. Paul is as good in the film as he is in the series — a sort of cardboard boy-scout good-guy character with very little darkness in him despite everything he’s done. Kell is portrayed by Bruce Payne (great name there) and unlike the villains of the previous two films he’s not a cutout. He actually has a good reason for hating Connor. He’s also kind of nuts.

There’s quite a supporting cast in this film, which is topped by Lisa Barbuscia, a model and musician. She plays Kate, who, in the 1700s, was Duncan’s wife. However, she was also a pre-Immortal. Now, in 2000, she is fashion designer Faith and she is wicked pissed at Duncan for making her Immortal and depriving her of children. Good motivation. Donnie Yen is the most honorable of Kell’s henchmen, Jin Ke. Peter Wingfield and Jim Byrnes reprise their roles from the series as Methos and Joe Dawson, and there’s a special appearance by Adam Copeland, better known as the WWE’s “Edge”. Interestingly, “Edge” got a “special guest star” mention in the credits, because as we all know that sort of thing will bring in all the wrestling fans.

For what it’s worth, he didn’t suck in his brief role, although one wonders why a Canadian-speaking rogue was hanging out in Kildare, Ireland.

Oh, and one other weird piece of casting — June Watson, who played Connor’s mother, looked an awful lot like Stanley Tucci’s weird cohost in The Hunger Games. It was distracting.

If you take Highlander: Endgame as a straightforward action film and don’t care about the plot, I think you’ll be satisfied. Unlike Lambert, Paul is actually capable of moving in the way martial artists have to (he’s a dancer), and he also spent six years doing martial arts and swordplay on the TV show. Plus, Donnie Yen choreographed the martial arts for the film. The fights in this movie are faster and crisper, and the cinematography is better; in this alone the film is elevated above the previous three. However, Connor still gets his moment as awesome swordsman dude by teaching Duncan the unblockable attack I mentioned earlier. Now, I’m not a swordsman by any stretch of the imagination, but I can think of at least three ways to get out of the move, not the least of which is to duck, you idiots!

But I digress.

One thing I did like about the fighting was the contrast between Connor’s and Duncan’s styles — Connor, while a good swordsman, is definitely a dirtier fighter; Duncan prefers to keep it clean. We do get the fight between the two of them that people have been waiting for since the pilot of the TV show, though.

The writing was about as good as an episode of the television show — Connor got the good quips; Duncan didn’t. Duncan never really struck me as a quippy kind of guy anyway. In what was supposed to make the viewer go “ah-ha-HA, indeed!”, Kell had 661 kills at the start of the film. Which meant he almost had 666. Given that he was trained as a seminarian, it’s supposed to be ironic. But it wasn’t.

Because this was a Highlander movie, we had to have at least one sex scene with nudity. This time, it was awarded to Paul and Barbuscia. I’m not quite sure of Faith’s motivation to sleep with him after she lays into him with a wicked tongue-lashing***.

Set design and music were again about average, although I really got tired of the Scotland Enya-style music — it always makes me think of this song from the Toys soundtrack. The original ending had a really bad composite shot of one of the heroes standing at a grave before walking off into what was supposed to be the moors of Scotland, and I wasn’t thrilled to be leaving the movie with that shot — which is why I’m glad there was a director’s cut released with a slightly better ending.

Highlander: Endgame was in development hell for a while, and it shows. It went through several cuts and rewrites, leading to a subpar finished product in pretty much everything except the fight scenes that featured Duncan, and the conclusion of the Connor/Duncan battle. Christopher Lambert was getting too old for the role, and anyway he’d passed the torch in the TV series. This was not a good movie, and if you’re not a Highlander fan, you probably won’t like it. Even if you are, make sure you see the director’s cut so you can get the better ending and a few more scenes that make the plot work better.

I remember being pretty disappointed in the movie when I finally saw it (on DVD). It felt more like a two-parter from the series, and really, that’s what it should have been. It completely ignores the second and third films**** in favor of the TV show’s mythos — which is good, but not if you’ve never seen the show. It’s written without explanation of the Watchers or how Joe and Methos are Duncan’s friends, and there’s no time in the film to give anyone a really decent character arc except Kate/Faith. At least we could all take heart that this would be the last of the…

Oh, wait? It… it wasn’t?

Looks like it’s time to dig up my digital copy of Highlander: The Source, then.

#

Note to Parents: As with the other Highlander films, this movie contains violence (including decapitations), nudity, adult language, and adult situations. At least in this one the sex scenes actually flow with what little plot there is, whereas in the last one it was just indulgence on the part of the director and star. I think this could be handled by most older teens, as long as they don’t get all tittery***** about nude women on film. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.

#

* The first present-day scene in the film actually happens “ten years ago”. If Connor and Duncan last saw each other in the pilot of the series, which was 1992, then the earliest the film could possibly occur was 2002. Since the technology was pretty much present-day for the film’s release, I’m saying it’s in 2002. You can dispute me if you like.

** It actually makes sense on the show. Don’t try to figure it out right now.

*** No pun intended. This was the 00s; heroes in film didn’t regularly engage in oral sex at the time. That didn’t come — oh, shut up — until a few years later.

**** With the exception of some good bits from Sean Connery, everyone should ignore the second film.

***** See what I did there?

Film Review: Highlander III: The Sorcerer

This review contains major spoilers for Highlander and mild-to-moderate spoilers for Highlander III.

#

One of the things I love about my job is that, as long as we get our work done, we can occupy the free bandwidth in our brains however we like. Some of us listen to music, some of us watch Netflix, and some of us just work. Usually I listen to music, but recently I was walking into work and whistling the theme from Snoopy, Come Home* and decided I wanted to watch it on YouTube (which I’ve done before) while I worked.

Then I decided to branch out. First I found Armageddon**. Then I found Highlander II***. That led me to Highlander III: The Sorcerer, which originally hit theaters as Highlander III: The Final Dimension.

I think we all remember the tragedy that was the second Highlander film. I certainly do. I mean, I’d just seen it two days prior. When the third film came out, I decided I liked the story enough to see H3 in theaters. Yeah, that’s right, I spent my hard-earned $6 on a ticket to the movie.

And I enjoyed it****.

For those of you living under a rock, Highlander is the story of Connor MacLeod, an immortal Scotsman who, like others of his kind, fights with a blade and can only be killed by decapitation. Otherwise, he doesn’t age and can’t be hurt. In the first film, he thought he won “The Prize” by defeating Kurgan, the man who killed his best friend Ramirez and then raped his wife, back in the 1500s. Now, eight years later, MacLeod is living in Morocco with his friend Jack and his adopted son John. He feels a disturbance in the Force and realizes that, although he won The Prize, he hasn’t killed all the immortals on the planet.

In the 1600s, after his wife’s natural death due to old age, MacLeod wandered the world, eventually ending up in Japan, the home of the legendary sorcerer and swordmaker Nakano. MacLeod trained with Nakano and earned the power of illusion (which for some reason he didn’t use in the first two films — go figure, right?), but when the evil immortal Kane and his two henchmen arrived, Nakano sacrificed himself to save MacLeod’s immortal life. Nakano used his power to trap Kane and his henchmen for 300 years, until an archaeological expedition unearthed Nakano’s cavern. Kane escaped and came after MacLeod.

As with the first (and fourth) Highlander film, MacLeod’s story is told twice — first in the present, and also in the past. This time, it’s the French Revolution, when MacLeod is introduced to Sara, a free-spirited young woman who he is sent to “tame”. Sara bears more than a passing resemblance to Dr. Alex Johnson, the archaeologist who found Nakano’s tomb. MacLeod deeply loved Sara, and in the present, he falls in love with Alex. However, Kane’s thirst for vengeance leads to death and destruction in New York City, and both Sara and John (MacLeod’s son) are placed in great peril.

I think you can figure out how the movie ends.

Christopher Lambert returns to portray MacLeod. Of French descent, Lambert’s accents are meandering at best — he’s an okay Scotsman, but otherwise he speaks in what I assume is his normal voice. He does a good job with the swordfighting and action sequences, and he delivers the requisite quips as any good 90s actor should. Plus, at the time he was still young enough to convincingly portray someone who hadn’t aged a day in eight years. Makeup probably helped. His foil, Kane, was played by Mario Van Peebles. Highlander villains tended to overact, and I get the feeling the director told Van Peebles to emulate Clancy Brown (the villain in the first film) as much as he could. Gravelly voice, leering expression, strange tongue movements, the whole bit. If that was the direction, then he pulled it off admirably. As a teenager, I bought him as a villain, but watching the film 20-ish years later, I need more from my Big Bads. For starters, they need to have better motivation than “I’ve hated you for 400 years”. Deborah Unger, who’s in Combat Hospital but otherwise I didn’t really recognize, is both Alex and Sara, and she, like Bonnie Bedelia [NB: Roxanne Hart, not Bonnie Bedelia. Sorry about that.] in the first film, does a fine job as The Girl.

I think the best adjective for this film, overall, is “passable”. The music was passable; the plot was passable, the acting was passable, the obligatory montage***** was passable, the special effects were passable (for the time)… the sets and production design were cool, and the swordfighting was as good as to be expected in the Highlander films, but nothing else really jumped out at me as being exceptional. I wasn’t terribly invested in the love story (either of them), the villain, the historical sequences (it was the bloody French Revolution; I expect they could’ve done a lot more with that part), or MacLeod’s adopted son. And, I mean, as a 16-year-old, the nudity was awesome, but these days I don’t really need it, and as a 30-something, I’ve seen it already.

But, y’know what? I think that’s all okay. Because if you go into this film expecting a great movie, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s a lot of overacting, some silliness with magic and illusions (humans turning into birds, anyone?), and the requisite “asshat policeman” villain. But if you liked the first Highlander film and you can put aside the fact that it was set up to be a single film with no sequels, you’ll enjoy this movie too. I got what I came for when I went to the theater, and watching it in the background while I worked gave me what I came for as well — a film I’ve seen enough times that I didn’t have to actively watch it, and something going on in the background to fill my mental bandwidth.

I know some people say there should have been only one, but if there had to be a sequel… I think this was pretty decent.

#

Note to Parents: This film contains violence — including decapitations — as well as adult language and sexual situations. Compared to today’s films, it’s not that graphic, and if it wasn’t for the nudity, this film would probably get a PG-13, not an R. I kind of think Lambert has it in his contract that all Highlander films have to have at least one over-long sex scene, and this film definitely has that too. The sex scene is what pushes this past the limit of “allowable content” for teens, in my opinion. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.

#

* You can watch the whole thing on YouTube here.

** Don’t laugh. If you go into it with low expectations for plot and high expectations for one-lines and explosions, you get exactly what you are looking for.

*** Oh, shut up.

**** Hey, I was 16, and it had nudity. Don’t judge.

***** In this case, sword-making, set to Loreena McKennitt, because that just screams Scotland, doesn’t it?