Movie Report: Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)

Book coverWell, I guess I am on a Virginia Madsen kick. I mean, I posted the trailer of Electric Dreams for a twee post on AI, and then I watched Sideways. While researching her C.V., I discovered that she was the love interest in this film from back in the 1980s, and since I just watched Highlander in January, watching this film just seemed the thing to do. Also, note that since I picked up a second set of videos in the Highlander series, watching them again will mean that I’ve watched the series through within a span of five or seven years–more than the Conan series even. Make of that what you will.

So: Highlander purists deny this film from the canon, and it’s a strange thing that there are Highlander purists and Highlander has a canon. The film strays a bunch from the thin story set forth in the first movie and retcons some things in that make little sense in a continuing franchise, but this was the 80s, man (the film’s release date was 1991, but the zeitgeist was 80s). They weren’t thinking in terms of story arcs and trilogies and whatnot then–they were thinking “Hey, can we milk this almond one more time?” So when the third movie came along somehow, it ignored the events and stories set forth in this film. Rightly so.

At any rate: The film takes place in the far off future of 2024 (that is, next year). In 1999, Connor MacLeod, grieving the death of his wife Barbara (apparently, he married the woman from the first movie) due to–radiation sickness? Severe sunburn?–helps a scientific team to build an artificial “Shield” to replace the ozone layer which a decade after the first movie has broken down enough to threaten all life on Earth (remember that? No–we remember the artificially created panic around the possibility, but by the actual 1999 we’d moved onto the artificially induced panic of Y2K). The film takes place in 2024, 25 years later, when Connor has aged.

Here’s the retcon: MacLeod and Ramirez, Sean Connery’s character from the first film, were actually revolutionaries on a planet called Zeist where they rebelled against the rule of General Katana, played by Michael Ironside. When they’re captured, they’re exiled to Earth, where they’re immortal until they slay the other Zeistians(?), which I would guess includes all the other people who were killed in the first film and the Kurgan(?). Wouldn’t they have been fellow revolutionaries on Zeist? Ah, forget it, they’re just making stuff up and not planning beyond the end of this movie. Once Connor (I keep typing Duncan because that’s the Highlander from the television series) got the prize at the end of the first film, he could have chosen to go to Zeist (but he didn’t remember that part?) to be immortal there but chose to age on Earth (the alternative) with his wife. Who then died twenty-five years before the film takes place.

At any rate, for some reason, General Katana can no longer just wait for MacLeod to die of old age and sends two goofy assassins to kill him. Earth, meanwhile, under the shield is a miserable place, hot, humid, and without the chance of rain or the site of the sun and the stars. When the elderly MacLeod defeats the Zeistian assassins, the quickening from their deaths restores his youth and Zeistian immortality. He encounters the head of a resistance group, played by Virgina Madsen, who has learned that the Shield might not be necessary any more as the ozone layer appears to heal itself, and then General Katana comes to Earth himself to tackle MacLeod and so Michael Ironside can chew some scenery. Katana makes himself partner in the parent corporation (with a smarmy corporate leader Blake played by John C. McGinley, last seen hereabouts in The Animal. Sean Connery’s Ramirez is resurrected for some quick comic relief and to sacrifice himself to save MacLeod, and MacLeod defeats Katana and turns off the Shield to save mankind (I’d say “spoiler alert,” but, c’mon, man, we knew it would happen).

That is a lot of backstory and whatnot to make essentially a low budget B-movie about swordfights. It does not add the depth that the flashbacks do in the first movie, and they really don’t add anything at all. But it’s not bad for all that, although I don’t have an emotional stake in the Highlander canon to worry about the real serious issues you guys about this film in the whole mythos. Because it really wasn’t planned to be a mythos, and it doesn’t seem to have been planned much beyond getting the film done cheaply at all.

I have additional copies of the other two films in the to-watch library, so don’t be surprised to see a movie report about Sonny Spoons chewing the scenery in the near future.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Report: Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)

  1. I would have said you’d have to work very hard to make a lame movie that includes Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, Sean Connery and swordfighting, but this flick proved me wrong. As far as I could tell, almost any version available today leaves out the alien angle, so you may have a collectible.

  2. Ya know, for all that, it’s not bad for what it is. Some people, though, really, really like the first movie beyond what it was. Probably people who saw it when they were young and impressionable. I did not see the movie until I was a fully formed adult, or at least more formed like an adult, so it did not hit me like the movies I watched on Showtime over and over did.

    I did see in my “research” for the post (reading Wikipedia) that later DVD releases had different cuts that removed that, but I had not realized they completely superseded the original cut.

    If it is collectible, I have two copies of the collectible VHS and a means to watch it.

    This copy of the VHS was not that clear, but some I own that are still in cellophane look pretty good.

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