Highlander II: The Quickening
|Highlander II: The Quickening|
|Directed by||Russell Mulcahy|
|Screenplay by||Peter Bellwood|
by Gregory Widen
|Music by||Stewart Copeland|
|Box office||$15.6 million (US)|
Highlander II: The Quickening is a 1991 science fiction film directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Christopher Lambert, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside and Sean Connery. It is the second installment in the Highlander film series, and sequel of the 1986 fantasy film Highlander. Set in the year 2024, the plot concerns Connor MacLeod, who regains his youth and immortal abilities and must free Earth from the Shield, an artificial ozone layer that has fallen under the control of a corrupt corporation. The film was shot almost entirely in Argentina before and after the country's economy crashed; as the local economy experienced hyperinflation, the film's investors and completion bond company took direct control of production and final edit, removing director Mulcahy and his creative influence while changing parts of the story. The resulting film contradicts the established canon of Highlander, in depicting immortals as aliens, featuring the inexplicable resurrection of Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, and altering the concept of the "Quickening".
It received universally negative reviews from critics and fans of the series, with many considering it to be one of the worst films ever made. It was universally panned for its retcons, large plot holes, poorly developed characters, confusing story structure, an abundance of subplots, and bad editing. The original theatrical edition was released on 12 April 1991 in the United Kingdom (in an eight-minute longer cut) and 1 November 1991 in the United States, and was also a box-office bomb grossing $16 million in the US on a production budget of $34 million.
In 1995, an alternate director's cut called the Renegade Version was released to home video that attempted to address the many story problems, such as removing all mention of Zeist and the idea that immortals are aliens. This was followed by a Special Edition DVD release in 2004, which was largely the same cut as the Renegade Version but with some altered special effects. The sequel Highlander III: The Sorcerer follows the events of the first film, in the process contradicting and completely ignoring the events and revelations of Highlander II.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2021)
In the fifteenth century, on the planet Zeist, a meeting is held between the members of a rebellion against the corrupt leadership and the ruthless General Katana. Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, a wise sorcerer who guides the rebellion, chooses Connor MacLeod, "a man of great destiny", to lead them against Katana. Ramírez then uses the Quickening, a "kind of" magic, to create a bond between him and MacLeod that is stronger than death. Katana and his troops then attack, crushing the rebellion.
Ramírez and MacLeod are put on trial by Zeist's priests, who sentence them and other criminals to exile on Earth where they will be immortal. Locked into ageless lives, they will fight each other until there is only one left. The survivor will win the Prize: a choice to either remain on Earth as a mortal person and live out their days or return to Zeist, their past crimes forgiven. Ramírez and MacLeod are reborn on Earth, leading to the events of the original film.
In 1985, after all other immortals on Earth are dead and The Kurgan’s reign of terror ends, MacLeod wins the Prize. He becomes mortal and marries his new lover Brenda Wyatt. By August 1994, the ozone layer is fading and will be completely gone in a matter of months. Millions, including Brenda, perish from unfiltered solar radiation. Before dying, Brenda asks McLeod to promise he will solve this ecological problem. By 1999, MacLeod is the supervisor of a scientific team headed by Dr. Allan Neyman that creates an electromagnetic shield to protect the Earth from radiation. The shield saves humanity, but condemns the planet to no longer seeing the sky, or sunlight, as well as an uncomfortably high average global temperature and high humidity. Unable to see the sky for decades, many begin to suffer from depression and loss of hope, and society continues to decline due to violence, greed, and crime. Many even grow to hate MacLeod, saying he ruined the world.
By 2024, the shield has fallen under the control of The Shield Corporation (TSC) and chief executive David Blake, who impose heavy fees on countries that desire continued protection from solar radiation. Louise Marcus, a former employee of TSC, is a member of a radical activist group that believes the ozone layer has healed and that the shield is no longer needed. She believes TSC is keeping this secret so the shield can continue providing a profit.
Now a frail old man, MacLeod lives a solitary life. While watching a performance of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung, he remembers Ramírez and his past on Zeist. Meanwhile, on Zeist, the still-living General Katana considers that MacLeod may still choose to return to Zeist rather than die on Earth of natural causes. Unwilling to take that chance, Katana sends two henchmen, Corda and Reno, to kill him. A small cut on MacLeod's hand instantly heals, making him realize that there are other immortals on Earth again.
Marcus finds MacLeod and asks for his help in taking down the shield, explaining the ozone has healed. MacLeod declines, saying he is dying and does not approve of terrorism. Corda and Reno attack MacLeod, who reluctantly fights back. After decapitating Corda, MacLeod absorbs his power, regaining the youth and vitality he had before he won the Prize. He kills Reno and then instinctively summons Ramírez back to life. Louise witnesses this battle and becomes MacLeod's lover.
Ramírez materializes alive and well where he had died, in Glencoe, Scotland. Drawn to MacLeod's location, he pawns his earring to acquire a new sword, a new suit of clothes and a plane ticket to New York. Meanwhile, General Katana arrives from Zeist, determined to kill MacLeod himself. On Earth, he takes control of a subway car and sends it speeding out of control, killing all aboard. He briefly confronts MacLeod on holy ground (where they are forbidden to fight), taunting him before leaving. After Ramírez finds MacLeod and Louise, the three make a plan to take down the shield.
Deducing that MacLeod will target the shield, Katana allies himself with David Blake. When it is discovered that he has told MacLeod there is proof the ozone layer is healed, Neyman is fatally tortured. MacLeod, Ramírez, and Louise break into TSC. Using his magic, Ramírez sacrifices his life to save MacLeod from a trap. Blake is killed and MacLeod, wielding the sword he had before winning the Prize, has one final battle with Katana, decapitating him. Releasing his own immortal energy and the energy he absorbed from Katana, MacLeod succeeds in disabling the shield. Louise Marcus, along with many people on Earth, sees the stars and sky for the first time in her life.
In the UK theatrical release, an extended prologue better explains MacLeod's motives for creating the Shield, confirming his wife Brenda died from radiation poisoning. An extra scene shows MacLeod and Louise journeying above the Shield to confirm the ozone layer has repaired itself. In an extended ending, MacLeod returns to Zeist after destroying the Shield, with Louise accompanying him (this has been dubbed by fans as the "fairy tale ending").
Renegade Version/Special Edition
Connor MacLeod and the other immortals are human beings born with the Quickening, an energy that makes them invincible to death unless they are beheaded. MacLeod and sorcerer Ramírez are both immortals and inhabitants of a society on Earth that predates recorded history, during a time when magic and advanced technology co-exist. This society is ruled by a dictatorship that is enforced by the military leader General Katana, another immortal, but this rule is opposed by a group of revolutionaries that includes several immortals such as MacLeod and Ramírez. Ramírez declares MacLeod the new leader of the revolution and uses ancient magic to bond their souls together. When MacLeod and Ramírez are captured by Katana's forces, the priests and Chief Justice overseeing the case decide to exile them and other immortal criminals to various points of Earth's future, long after their society falls and is forgotten. If one of the immortal exiles is able to kill all the others, that immortal will win the Prize - full amnesty for their crimes and a choice: return to their true home in the distant past or remain in the future, living as a mortal who will age and eventually die. Before they are separated, Ramírez promises that the bond between their souls means they can always find each other again, even beyond death. They are then transported to different points in the future.
Ramírez is reborn in Ancient Egypt and becomes a cunning but morally guided warrior. MacLeod is reborn as a Scottish Highlander in the 16th century, apparently not remembering his first life in the distant past. After discovering his immortality, McLeod is found by Ramírez who trains him to fight. Ramírez is later killed by another immortal, The Kurgan. Centuries later in New York, MacLeod defeats the Kurgan, becoming the last immortal exile left alive, thus winning the Prize and becoming mortal. Since he never fully declares whether or not he chooses to remain or return, MacLeod still has the possibility of returning to the distant past. The first film ends with MacLeod stating that the Prize gave him the ability to know the thoughts and dreams of all people on Earth—including scientists whom he can help understand each other. A new flashback reveals that MacLeod then marries Brenda Wyatt, who dies in 1994 from solar radiation poisoning after Earth's ozone layer is destroyed. Before dying, Brenda makes MacLeod swear that he will use the Prize to save Earth from the effects of the dying ozone. He becomes directly involved in the creation of the Shield and protective of its use, until he is told the ozone layer is healed. He later confirms this by journeying above the Shield with Louise.
The rest of the story that takes place in 2024 is largely similar to the original theatrical version, with flashbacks rearranged, additional scenes, and some scenes having minor changes. By 2024, MacLeod experiences flashbacks of his original life in the distant past and his war with Katana. Katana does not wish to risk that MacLeod may one day return home from the future, so he transports two immortal assassins to 2024. When they both end up beheaded, MacLeod absorbs their Quickening energies, regaining his youth and immortality. At the end, MacLeod releases his Quickening energy to destroy the Shield, indicating he may now have become mortal again in the process. With the Shield gone, he embraces Louise and the two vanish in a burst of light that rises into the sky, indicating they have journeyed back to MacLeod's home in the distant past.
- Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod
- Sean Connery as Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez
- Virginia Madsen as Louise Marcus
- Michael Ironside as General Katana
- Allan Rich as Allan Neyman
- John C. McGinley as David Blake
- Philipp Brock as Cabbie
- Rusty Schwimmer as Drunk
- Ed Trucco as Jimmy
- Steven Grives as Hamlet
- Jimmy Murray as Horatio
- Pete Antico as Corda
- Peter Bucossi as Reno
Although the film originally began after the success of the original, Davis/Panzer Productions presold most of the rights of the Highlander sequel to Vestron Inc. for $18 million, namely in five foreign territories, such as the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Australia, Japan and Benelux, while Vestron would handle French home video distribution, Filmauro gained Italian rights to the project, Highlight Communications gained German rights to the film, Nea Kinisi for the Greece market and Lusomondo for the Portugal market, and the producers concluded other presells were available for the Argentina, Peru and Bolivia markets, and in the U.S., set to be released by New Century/Vista Film Co., which was intended for the summer of 1988, but it was landed in development hell.
The sets of Highlander II have been compared to those of Ridley Scott, particularly those of Blade Runner. Lambert and Ironside both suffered injuries during the filming, according to the St. Petersburg Times: "Lambert chipped one of Ironside's teeth during a fight scene, while Ironside inadvertently chopped off part of Lambert's finger during a swordfight scene. Both men recovered from their injuries, but Ironside said precision thrusts and parries were impossible when wielding a 22-pound broadsword."
According to the documentary Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina, the film's apparent poor performance is partially a result of the bonding company's interference with the work of the director, Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy reportedly hated the final product so much he walked out of the film's world premiere, reportedly doing so after viewing its first 15 minutes. For similar reasons, Christopher Lambert threatened to walk out of the project when it was nearing fruition. However, due to contractual obligations, he did not.
The film's investors and completion bond company took direct control of production and final edit, removing director Mulcahy and his creative influence while changing parts of the story. The resulting film contradicts the established canon of Highlander regarding the nature of immortals and MacLeod's past, such as depicting immortals as aliens from the planet Zeist rather than human-born with energy connecting them to nature and making them unable to die unless beheaded. MacLeod's former mentor Ramírez, killed in the first film, is inexplicably resurrected and now depicted as an alien sorcerer. While the first film used the word "Quickening" to refer to the energy that gives an immortal their power, Highlander II uses the term to refer to a magical force Ramírez uses to bond his soul to MacLeod's, allowing him to return from death when the Highlander needs him.
A once lost alternate ending, commonly known as The Fairytale Ending, was shown only in some European theaters and has never been shown in any of the American cuts. The ending shows Connor magically returning to planet Zeist, taking Louise along with him, while Ramírez’s voice is heard in the background. An early version of this ending is shown on the Special Edition. It also includes footage of Virginia Madsen as Louise Marcus speaking to Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod. Madsen is on location while Lambert is suspended by wires in front of a blue screen. After a brief exchange where Connor asks Louise to come with him, the theatrical ending is shown where the two embrace in front of a field of stars, then transform into light streaks and fly off into space.
Highlander II: The Quickening was released in the UK on 12 April 1991 with a runtime of 100 minutes. This version was distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors and ran 8 minutes longer than the US cut.
As well as a very different scene order this version included additional footage not seen in the later US Theatrical release; including a flashback to the death of Connor's previous wife Brenda, a sequence of Connor and Louise going above the shield, and the alternate "Fairytale Ending" mentioned above.
Despite this longer version running in UK theatres, all home video releases in the country to date have been of the shorter 91-minute US Theatrical Release (running 86 minutes due to PAL speedup). This includes the rental VHS (EVV 1203), retail VHS (EVS 1072), laserdisc (PLFEB 37011), and DVD (EDV 9119).
United States Release
Highlander II: The Quickening was released in the United States on 1 November 1991 with a runtime of 91 minutes, distributed by InterStar Releasing. This version was edited down by the bond company, with many scenes rearranged throughout. Despite the many cuts made to this version the bond company also added two new scenes that further fleshed out the villain, General Katana. These scenes include; Katana taunting Connor in his Zeist prison cell, and Connor and Katana meeting at the grave of Connor's dead wife, Brenda.
This version was released many times in the US, including on VHS, laserdisc, and Video8. All DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the film in the United States have been of the longer "Renegade" and "Special Edition" versions.
A $1 million television advertising campaign was run for the release of the film.
In 1995, Mulcahy made a director's cut version known as the Renegade Version, which became the main version of the film available as the original theatrical cut did not have enough demand to warrant further production for home media. As a result, many fans in later years were only able to find the Renegade Version for viewing rather than the original theatrical release. The Renegade Version was reconstructed largely from existing material; certain scenes were removed and others added back in and entire sequences of events were changed. All references to the Immortals being aliens from another planet called Zeist were eliminated. New sequences include a battle between MacLeod and Katana atop a moving vehicle after they escape the security facility, and MacLeod and Louise climb through a mountain tunnel to emerge above the Shield to confirm that the radiation levels are back to normal (a scene previously only seen in the UK cut). The new version removes a major continuity gaffe from the theatrical version, which had merged two separate sword fights between MacLeod and Katana into one longer climactic battle. The director's cut version restores them to two separate battles, although it never shows how or when Connor reacquired his katana.
Producers Panzer and Davis revisited Highlander II once again in 2004. Dubbed the "Special Edition", this cut was nearly identical to the Renegade Version, but with a few alterations, such as the introduction of new CGI special effects throughout the film, including a now-blue shield as originally intended, and a small piece of voice-over work by Lambert. As the original cut of the film is no longer distributed, many fans in later years have only had the Regenade Version and Special Edition available to watch.
Reviewing the 2004 "Special Edition" DVD, David Ryan of DVD Verdict gave it a score of 69 out of 100 and said that "[this] is the best version of this film that [the producers] can make with the material they have on hand. It's still not a particularly good film—but it's infinitely superior to the original version... What was once a horrible, horrible film has become downright tolerable, and actually somewhat entertaining at times."
The film was released months later in the US on 1 November 1991, and opened at #3, grossing $5.3 million in 960 theaters in the opening weekend. It grossed a total of $15.6 million in the US.
Highlander II: The Quickening received critically negative reviews from critics, and is considered one of the worst films ever made. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rare approval rating of 0% based on 24 reviews, and an average rating of 2.7/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "There should have been only one." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 31 out of 100 based on 14 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Common criticisms included the lack of motivation for the characters, the new and seemingly incongruent origin for the Immortals, the resurrection of Ramírez, and apparent contradictions in the film's internal logic.[improper synthesis?]
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a score of 0.5 stars (out of four), saying: "Highlander II: The Quickening is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I've seen in many a long day—a movie almost awesome in its badness. Wherever science fiction fans gather, in decades and generations to come, this film will be remembered in hushed tones as one of the immortal low points of the genre … If there is a planet somewhere whose civilization is based on the worst movies of all time, Highlander 2: The Quickening deserves a sacred place among their most treasured artifacts." Ebert also mocked the Quickening, saying it looked like a person standing in a puddle had touched another person who had just stuck his finger into a light socket.
Alex Carter of Den of Geek wrote: «I started writing this to try and shed a different light on this unappreciated classic, but I can't. I really can't. Highlander II is awful. It's not even "so bad it's good" territory, it skips right past that into the "so awful you can't look away for fear you'll both be killed" territory. And amazingly, it manages to not only be contender for worst film in the world, but it also runs the entire franchise into the ground and retcons the first film into oblivion in the space of 15 minutes ... For decades, this was the punchline for every bad movie joke, the bad sequel to end all bad sequels. This is a film that wishes it could be as good as Santa Claus Conquers The Martians.» Giving the film a score of 2 out of 10, IGN's review of the Highlander 2: Renegade Version said: "How bad is this movie? Well, imagine if Ed Wood were alive today, and someone gave him a multi-million dollar budget. See his imagination running rampant, bringing in aliens from outer space with immensely powerful firearms, immortals who bring each other back to life by calling out their names, epic duels on flying skateboards, and a blatant disregard for anything logical or previously established—now you are starting to get closer to the vision of Highlander II."
Awarding the film one star out of five, Christopher Null of FilmCritic.com said, "Highlander has become a bit of a joke, and here's where the joke started... Incomprehensible doesn't even begin to explain it. This movie is the equivalent of the 'Hey, look over there!' gag. You look, and the guy you wanted to beat up has run away and hid."
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a mixed review: "It makes clearer much that was so vague in the original; it even jokes about how confusing its premise is. In short, audiences who made the first film successful enough to warrant a second will be getting a bit more for their money." David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews gave the film two stars out of four, saying: "It's hard to imagine Highlander II appealing to non-fans of the first film, as the film barely captures the sense of fun that was so prevalent in the original. With its complicated storyline and dreary visuals, it occasionally feels more perfunctory than anything else—though, to be fair, it's nowhere near as bad as it's been made out to be over the years."
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