Highlander II: The Quickening

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Highlander II: The Quickening
Two men standing back to back. Behind them a sword, and lightning.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRussell Mulcahy
Screenplay byPeter Bellwood
Story by
Based onCharacters
by Gregory Widen
Produced by
  • Peter S. Davis
  • William N. Panzer
  • Jean-Luc Defait[1]
CinematographyPhil Meheux
Edited by
  • Hubert de La Bouillerie
  • Anthony Redman
Music byStewart Copeland
  • Davis/Panzer Productions[2]
  • Lamb Bear Entertainment
Distributed byInterStar[2]
Release date
  • 12 April 1991 (1991-04-12) (UK)
  • 1 November 1991 (1991-11-01) (US)
Running time
100 minutes[3]
CountriesUnited States[4]
Budget$34 million
Box office$15.6 million (US)[6]

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 transitions the fantasy of the first film into science fiction. It was released on 12 April 1991 in the United Kingdom (in a 8 minutes longer cut)[7] and 1 November 1991 in the United States. Set in the year 2024, the plot concerns Connor MacLeod, the Highlander, that after regaining his youth and immortal abilities, he must free Earth from the Shield, an artificial ozone that has fallen under the control of a corrupt corporation.

Highlander II was shot almost entirely in Argentina 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.[8][9] The resulting film contradicts the established canon of the first movie regarding the nature of immortals and MacLeod's past, such as depicting immortals as aliens from the planet Zeist rather than human born with an 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 movie used the word "Quickening" to refer to the energy that gives an immortal their power, this movie 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.

The film has received very negative reviews from critics and fans of the series, and is considered one of the worst films ever made.[10] It was universally panned for its retcons, large plot holes, poorly developed characters, confusing story structure, abundance of subplots, and bad editing.[11] The original theatrical edition 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 contradicting and ignoring the events and revelations of Highlander 2.


Roughly 500 years before the film takes place, on the planet Zeist, a last 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 the man called Connor MacLeod, "a man of great destiny," to lead them against Katana. Ramírez then uses the Quickening, which he explains is a "kind of" magic, to create a bond between him and MacLeod that is stronger than death. MacLeod proves himself to be totally inept as a military leader when Katana and his troops 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 for some reason. 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. Katana is unsatisfied with their decision, but the sentence is executed, leading to the events of the original film. How MacLeod experiences a childhood in Scotland and does not recognize Ramírez when they meet in the 16th century is not explained, nor is it said why Ramírez claims in the first film that he is thousands of years old and from Egypt when he was only exiled from Zeist to Earth in the 16th century (roughly 500 years ago before when the film takes place). The script clarifies that the Zeist aliens are "reborn" as immortals on Earth but this is not said in the movie.

In 1985, after all other immortals on Earth are dead and The Kurgan’s reign of terror is brought to an end, MacLeod wins the Prize. He becomes mortal and marries his new lover Brenda Wyatt. Although the first movie ends with MacLeod saying the Prize gave him the ability to know the thoughts and dreams of all people on Earth, that power is never mentioned in this movie. By August 1994, the ozone layer is fading and will be completely gone in a matter of months. Millions perish from unfiltered solar radiation, including Brenda Wyatt MacLeod. Before dying, Brenda asks Connor to promise he will solve the problem of the ozone layer. By 1999, Connor MacLeod is supervisor of a scientific team headed by Dr. Allan Neyman that creates an electromagnetic shield to protect Earth from radiation. MacLeod and Neyman are proud to have saved humanity, but the shield means condemning the planet to no longer see the sky, stars 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 while human society continues to decline due to violence, greed and crime. Many even grow to hate Connor, saying he ruined the world, ignoring the fact the ozone layer would’ve killed them if he did nothing.

By 2024, the shield has fallen under the control of The Shield Corporation (TSC) and chief executive David Blake, who imposes 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 TSC is keeping this secret so the shield can continue providing profit.

Now a frail old man, MacLeod lives a solitary life. While watching a performance of Wagner's Götterdämmerung, he remembers Ramírez appears 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, delivered by a drunk, instantly heals and he realizes this means there are other immortals on Earth again.

Marcus finds MacLeod and asks for his help in taking down the shield he helped create, explaining the ozone has healed. MacLeod declines, saying he is dying and doesn't approve of terrorism. Corda and Reno attack and MacLeod desperately tries to escape. When Corda winds up losing his head following a fight, 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.

In Glencoe, Scotland - the location of his death in the first Highlander film - Ramírez materializes alive and well. Drawn to MacLeod's location, he acquires new sword, new clothes and transportation. Meanwhile, General Katana arrives from Zeist, determined to kill MacLeod himself. As soon as he arrives, 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. Ramírez then finds MacLeod and Louise and they make a plan to take down the shield.

Deducing MacLeod will target the shield, Katana allies himself with David Blake who explains the energy required to counteract and disable the shield at this point could threaten Earth. When it is discovered that he has told MacLeod there is proof the ozone layer is healed, Dr. Allan Neyman is fatally tortured. MacLeod, Ramírez, and Louise break into TSC. Using his magic, Ramírez sacrifices his life to save the Highlander from a death 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 disrupting and removing 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 Connor's motives for creating the Shield, confirming his wife Brenda died from radiation poisoning. An extra scene shows Connor 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 and is seen on the planet walking alongside Louise who has accompanied him (this has been dubbed by fans as the "fairy tale ending").[12]

Renegade Version/Special Edition[edit]

Connor MacLeod and the other immortals are human beings born with an energy called the Quickening that makes them invincible to death unless they are beheaded. MacLeod and a sorcerer named 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 then uses an ancient, nameless 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 will have fallen and been 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 but now live 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 of the future.

Ramírez is reborn in Ancient Egypt and becomes a cunning but morally guided warrior. Connor MacLeod is reborn as a Scottish Highlander in the 16th century, apparently not remembering his first life in the distant past. MacLeod eventually discovers he is immortal and soon afterward he is found by Ramírez who trains him to fight. The Egyptian warrior is then killed by another immortal, The Kurgan. Centuries later in New York, 1985, 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 and the society he originally called home. Although the first movie ends with MacLeod saying the Prize gave him the ability to know the thoughts and dreams of all people on Earth, that power is never mentioned in this story. Connor MacLeod marries Brenda Wyatt, who later dies in 1994 due to solar radiation poisoning after Earth's ozone layer is destroyed. By 2024, MacLeod experiences flashbacks of his original life in the distant past and his war with Katana. It is unclear if this was a direct result of winning the Prize or if the memories came back naturally over time. 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.

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. A new scene reveals Brenda Wyatt MacLeod on her deathbed in 1994 due to solar radiation poisoning, asking Connor to promise he will ensure others won't suffer similarly and will find a way to save Earth. For this reason, MacLeod becomes directly involved in the creation of the Shield and protective of its use, until he is told the ozone layer is healed and later confirms this by journeying above the Shield with Louise. At the end of the movie, MacLeod releases his Quickening energy to overload and 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.



The sets of Highlander II have been compared to those of Ridley Scott,[13] particularly those of Blade Runner.[14] 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."[15]

John C. McGinley made his character's voice as deep as possible in an effort to sound like Orson Welles. He has since admitted that this was a bad idea.[16][17][dead link]

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 director Russell Mulcahy.[8] Mulcahy reportedly hated the final product so much he walked out of the film's world premiere,[9] 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.[9]

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’ voice is heard in the background. An early version of this ending is shown on the Special Edition. However, 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.

This ending appeared on the original UK rental VHS release, which was of the UK theatrical cut, and is sometimes seen in televised broadcasts of Highlander II: The Quickening. The later retail VHS version simply cuts off after Connor looks up at the starry sky and smiles, after the smoke from the explosion of the December Installation clears.


Cut version[edit]

Highlander II: The Quickening was released in the UK on 12 April 1991, distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors and running 8 minutes longer than the US cut.


A $1 million television advertising campaign was run for the release of the film.[18]

Home media[edit]

In the United States, the theatrical cut was released on VHS on 13 May 1992[19] by Columbia TriStar Home Video,[20] and was reissued on 13 April 1994 by Hemdale Home Video.[21]

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 movie. The Renegade Version was reconstructed largely from existing material; certain scenes were removed and others added back in, and entire sequence 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.[citation needed]

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."[22]


Box office[edit]

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.[6]

Critical response[edit]

The movie was critically panned, 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."[23] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 31 out of 100 based on 14 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[24] 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.[25]

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."[26]

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."[27]

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."[28] 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."[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Highlander 2: The Quickening". Cinematografo. 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Highlander 2: The Quickening". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  3. ^ "HIGHLANDER II - THE QUICKENING (15)". Entertainment Film Distributors. British Board of Film Classification. 8 April 1991. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Highlander 2 The Quickening (1990)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 13 July 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  5. ^ U.S.-Argentine Co-productions, 1982-1990: Roger Corman, Aries Productions, "Schlockbuster" Movies, and the International Market - Film & History. An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies January 2004, ResearchGate
  6. ^ a b "Highlander 2: The Quickening". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  7. ^ Gaines, Jonathan (producer). Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina (2004). DVD: Lionsgate.
  8. ^ a b Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina. Dir. Jonathan Gaines. 2004. DVD. Lions Gate Entertainment
  9. ^ a b c Cinema Slap Fight: Sex And The City 2 Vs. Highlander II, by Pete Vonder Haar 21-09-2011, Houston Press
  10. ^ Hicks, Chris. "Highlander II: The Quickening."". Archived from the original on 30 December 2008. Deseret News.
  11. ^ "Highlander 2: Renegade Version". IGN.
  12. ^ Murphy, Sean. "Highlander II : Three Versions Of A Film In Search Of Its Identity By Sean Murphy". Figmentfly.com. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  13. ^ Buxton, Brendan (19 May 1991). "A case for letting sleeping dogs lie". Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Limited.
  14. ^ Andrews, Nigel (11 April 1991). "Arts: Bonfire infusion - Cinema". Financial Times. The Financial Times Limited. p. London Page 21. ISSN 0307-1766.
  15. ^ Elias, Thomas D. (25 October 1991). "The pain of realism". St. Petersburg Times. Independent Press. Scripps Howard News Service. p. 4D. ISSN 1563-6291.
  16. ^ "John C. McGinley". Thousands of true funny stories about famous people: Anecdotes from Gates to Yeats. Anecdotage.com. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  17. ^ Slezak, Michael (18 September 2005). "Live from EW's Emmy party". EW.com. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  18. ^ "Entertainment Films Launches #1M Advertising Campaign Through Laing Henry Hill Holliday". Marketing Week. Centaur Communications Limited. 12 April 1991. p. 13. ISSN 0141-9285.
  19. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (17 April 1992). "Relive the Winter Olympics on tape". Houston Chronicle. p. 2 STAR 3. ISSN 1074-7109.
  20. ^ "Monsters and more: Mayhem for month". The Washington Times. 30 April 1992. p. 2. ISSN 0732-8494.
  21. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (2 April 1994). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.
  22. ^ Ryan, Judge (27 August 2004). "Highlander 2: Special Edition". Dvdverdict.com. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  23. ^ "Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  24. ^ "Highlander II: The Quickening Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  25. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 November 1991). "Highlander 2: The Quickening". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 1 February 2021. 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.
  26. ^ "Highlander 2: Renegade Version". IGN. Ziff Davis. 16 June 2000. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  27. ^ Null, Christopher (20 July 2004). "Highlander II: The Quickening". Filmcritic.com. Archived from the original on 8 May 2008. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  28. ^ Kevin Thomas (1 November 1991). "MOVIE REVIEW : Action-Fantasy 'Highlander 2' Tries to Sort It All Out". Los Angeles Times.
  29. ^ Nusair, David (31 July 2004). "Highlander 2". Reelfilm.com. Archived from the original on 14 January 2007. Retrieved 11 October 2019.

External links[edit]