I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I got into the “Highlander” movies when I was pretty young. I distinctly remember having all of the movies on VHS, including the ones that tied into the (in my opinion) not-so-great television series. In particular, I specifically remember watching “Highlander II: The Quickening” a number of times, and always feeling thoroughly confused by the plot and the seemingly incomprehensible details. At the time, I assumed it was just because I was a kid, but it turns out that the movie is actually deemed by society at large to be a babbling mess. Fun fact: I also thought that the only reason I couldn’t beat “BattleToads” was because I was a kid, and that it would be easy street once I got older. No dice there either, as it turns out.
I personally think of “Highlander II” as a good-bad movie, but only by a hair. The movie is powered by a handful of over-the-top performances that chew their way through the perplexing scenery and unnecessarily complicated plot. In particular, Michael Ironside and Sean Connery own the movie whenever they are on screen: Ironside as the primary villain, and Connery reprising his role as Connor MacLeod’s fan-favorite, katana-weilding mentor, Ramirez.
Unfortunately, Connery does not get much screen-time, and doesn’t factor into the plot in any way. Apparently, star Christopher Lambert only agreed to return to the movie if Connery was brought back, which led to some shoehorning of the script to bring the Ramirez character back to life. Even though he isn’t in it much, I am thankful that they made the effort to bring Connery in, because his comic relief is top-notch. Watching Ramirez interrupt a production of “Hamlet”, ride in a plane, and invade a tailor are all highlights in what can be a rather dull movie.
Michael Ironside, on the other hand, plays his villain as over the top as possible. In his own words:
“Yeah, listen, I hated that script. We all did. Me, Sean, Chris… we all were in it for the money on this one. I mean, it (the script) read as if it had been written by a thirteen year old boy. But I’d never played a barbarian swordsman before, and this was my first big evil mastermind type. I figured if I was going to do this stupid movie, I might as well have fun and go as far over the top as I possibly could. All that eye-rolling and foaming at the mouth was me deciding that if I was going to be in a piece of shit like that movie, I was going to be the most memorable fucking thing in it. And I think I succeeded.”
To say that Ironside is a delight to watch in this movie does not even scratch the surface of how entertainingly ridiculous his character is. He essentially enters the movie by hijacking a subway, and subsequently wrecking it. He takes over a super-corporation via a *literal* hostile takeover of the board of directors. His performance is nothing short of amazing.
The writing of “Highlander II”, for better or worse, is thoroughly baffling. The primary plot involves a massive energy dome that has been constructed to protect society from the sun, constructed after massive casualties sustained once the ozone suddenly depletes. Inexplicably, the dome is revealed to have been designed by protagonist Connor MacLeod after the events of the first movie, after his love interest is murdered by the sun. It was never implied previously that MacLeod would be able to design such a device though, so this revelation comes purely out of left field. As the story begins, the audience is introduced to a terrorist group that believes that the “shield” is no longer necessary due to the ozone having repaired itself. They claim that the private interests behind the “shield” don’t want the world to know about the healthy ozone layer due to the profitability of the shield. MacLeod, by this time an old man, comes across the leader of this group, giving the movie an inexplicable, shoe-horned love interest.
As complicated and unnecessary as the primary plot is, it pales in comparison to the secondary story. It is revealed through flashbacks that the “immortals” depicted throughout the first film (MacLeod and Ramirez included) are, in fact, exiled aliens. All of these “immortals” were members of an unsuccessful rebellion, who were banished into the future by Michael Ironside and forced into murderous competition until only one remains. After the competition concludes, the winner is theoretically given the option to either return to the past or live our his life in the distant future. At the beginning of the movie, Ironside is somehow aware that MacLeod has won the competition, but it unsatisfied that he is slowly dying of old age in the future. Perplexingly, he send two porcupine-headed assassins to kill the aging MacLeod, which predictably goes awry.
After MacLeod defeats the porcupine twins, his youth and strength is restored, which Ironside should have seen coming from a mile away. Instead of leaving well enough alone and leaving MacLeod to his shitty future world, Ironside decides to hunt the Highlander down himself.
If those two plots are not mind-numbingly bizarre for you, there is a third level introduced at this point in the story: the resurrection of Sean Connery’s Ramirez. Apparently, due to their BFF status, the process by which MacLeod’s youth and power are restored (after defeating the porcupine twins) also revives the centuries-dead Ramirez. Again, the only reason that this was written in was because Christopher Lambert threatened to walk off the movie, and it very much feels like it. Connery has absolutely nothing to do in this movie: the only real action he takes is sacrificing himself to a giant industrial fan, which was hardly a necessary aspect of the movie.
The plot fragments do eventually synthesize together into a conjoined wreck, but it never starts to make sense. The motivations stay unclear, the actions illogical, and the plot remains ludicrous. Luckily, the performances also stay hammy: apart from Ironside and Connery, John C. McGinley gets some solid time in the film, and that usually means it will be a good ride.
I love bad movies that have fascinating stories behind their productions, and “Highlander II” definitely falls in that category. Apart from the issues with the actors already covered, the IMDb trivia section seems to go on forever. The director was at odds with the producers and the backers, there was all sorts of on-location drama in Argentina, the actors couldn’t behave themselves, and even some notable on-set injuries occurred. I think it all adds some flavor to the film, which does it some pretty big favors. Apparently there is documentary out there about the production, as well as a Director’s Cut of the film (known as the Renegade Version). This revised version of the movie is the one I have most often come across, but it cuts out some of the more ridiculous elements, so I can’t recommend it at the same level I can recommend the theatrical version.
And yes, I definitely do recommend this as a good-bad movie. It doesn’t pace itself incredibly well, but there are enough baffling plot points and laughable performances to make it very much worth the time. The more you read into the stories behind the movie, the more interesting it becomes (not unlike “The Creeping Terror” and the enigmatic Vic Savage). “Highlander II” isn’t in the IMDb Bottom 100 anymore, and I think that actually makes sense. In a strange way, this is a genuinely enjoyable flick, and it perhaps doesn’t deserve the dishonor of being in the honest ranks of the bottom 100 movies of all time.