Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) • 27 Years Later | by Dan Owen | Frame Rated | Medium

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) • 27 Years Later

In the future, Connor MacLeod must prevent the destruction of Earth under an artificial ozone shield, in Russell Mulcahy’s legendary bad sequel…

Dan Owen
Dan Owen
Aug 12, 2018 · 15 min read

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If you don’t take it out and use it, it’s going to rust.” — General Katana.

There are many reasons Highlander II wound up being a ghastly creative mess and box office failure. Christopher Lambert only agreed to reprise his role if Sean Connery (whom he’d bonded with on Highlander), could also return as flamboyant Egyptian mentor Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez. Investors were also keen to get Connery back, if only for the star-power he lent the project. The fact Ramírez died in the previous film was a massive barrier to this happening, but the problem was dumped on the laps of the writers.

“Nicely played, MacLeod, but the game’s not over yet.” — General Katana.

Only after Highlander II became a box office flop did Mulcahy get a chance to reinstate more of his original vision, by correcting some mistakes and undoing some changes. He negotiated the rights to the movie, raised money to shoot extra scenes, improved the visual effects, re-coloured the picture, re-edited the footage, and put together an 18-minute longer ‘Renegade Version’ released on VHS in 1995. Most notably, all mention of aliens and the planet Zeist were gone, requiring new dialogue in the council chamber that spoke of “the future” not “Earth”.

“Enough of this useless banter, I will be on my way and leave you to converse with your skull. Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.” — Ramírez.

To be fair to Highlander II, the storyline shows glimmers of promise in the first act, where it’s at its most entertaining. If one ignores those controversial flashbacks, of course! It’s certainly an unexpected way to continue the Highlander story, jumping to the year 2024. And I like how the opening mirrors the first movie’s beginning, with MacLeod again having his memories stirred as a spectator in a crowd. Last time, it was a 1985 boxing match at Madison Square Garden that triggered flashbacks to his time in 16th-century Scotland… and now it’s a performance of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung that reminds MacLeod of his true origin (either as an alien or ancient human, depending on what version of the movie you see).

“Great. I always wanted to meet the guy that turned the world to shit.”

Up until this point, Highlander II’s on shaky but sporadically enjoyable ground. The movie’s creative peak is unquestionably the action set-piece where a wrinkled MacLeod fends off those two assassins, who also arrived armed with high-tech anti-gravity boots and a backpack glider. Uh, which all ancient societies had in the centuries before the Roman Empire was formed, I’m sure. Maybe it’s easier to go with the stupid aliens explanation after all..?

“Okay, now let me just see if I can get this straight. You come from another planet, and you’re mortal there, but you’re immortal here until you kill all the guys from there who have come here… and then you’re mortal here… unless you go back there, or some more guys from there came here, in which case you become immortal here… again.” — Louise Marcus.

What rubs people up the wrong about Highlander II is its wilful ignorance of the mythology, as it’s simply not interested in continuing the idea of immortal beings co-existing with humans. Instead, The Shield becomes the basis for the whole story, once MacLeod hooks up with Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), a former employee of the Shield Corporation who believes the ozone layer has repaired itself but the company refuse to deactivate The Shield because the project generates huge revenue. Highlander II is about a futuristic corporate conspiracy, with MacLeod and Louise teaming up to bring down the Shield and restore the beautiful natural sky above everyone’s head.

“Most people have a full measure of life, and most people just watch it slowly drip away. But if you can summon it all up at one time, in one place, you can accomplish something glorious.” — Ramírez.

As a fan of the original, when I first saw Highlander II the experience was more confusing than angering. I was only 12, so thought I’d misunderstood something about the first movie, or overlooked seeds of the extra-terrestrial explanation for the Immortals. But even convincing myself it had always been about aliens, what was happening with these characters in the story wasn’t interesting and definitely wasn’t much fun.

“Remember, Highlander, you’ve both still got your full measure of life. Use it well, and your future will be glorious.” — Ramírez.

Bizarrely, this debacle didn’t spell the end of the Highlander saga. A Canadian-French TV series produced 119 episodes between 1992–98, starring Adrian Paul as another immortal MacLeod called Duncan. In some circles it’s more highly regarded than any of the movies. A female-led spin-off followed, Highlander: The Raven, with Elizabeth Gracen in the lead as Duncan’s former lover Amanda, but it wasn’t as well received and got cancelled.

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