Nostalgia has a lot to answer for. Chances are there are plenty of films you love that, objectively, aren’t all that great. For a lot of people, that’s pretty much the Star Wars franchise (as beloved as they are, none of these films are particularly well written, directed or acted). Highlander is very much in that category.
The 1980s appears to have spawned an entire range of films that are neither critical nor commercial successes but some have somehow gained cult appeal, leading to numerous sequels and TV spin-offs.
This particular cult film follows the exploits of Connor MacLoed of the Clan MacLoed, as played by the Frenchman, Christopher Lambert (complete with majorly dodgy accent). Connor is an immortal, one of a small number of people who can only be killed by decapitation.
These immortals are involved in a competition to be the last immortal alive (for reasons) and as the only way to kill them involves cutting their head off, this explains why they are all running round with swords.
Each time an immortal kills another immortal, they gain the power of all the people they have killed, until the last remaining immortal gains the Prize. You may well ask why they are immortal or why they are fighting for the Prize but don’t expect an answer in this movie as everyone is too busy having sword fights.
And really, that’s the point of this film: people having poorly choreographed sword fights in various locations in New York City. The sort of thing that 10 year old boys think is super awesome.
We learn about Connor’s past through flashbacks, some of which are hilarious (like the 18th century duel with the French aristocrat who keeps stabbing Connor until he yields just to put an end to it). Connor is taught all about being immortal by Sean Connery, who is an immortal Egyptian who became part of the Spanish nobility (for reasons).
That pretty much sums up how little anyone seems to care in this movie. Neither Christopher Lambert nor Sean Connery make any attempt to mask their accent and just seem to have a lot of fun being larger than life immortal warriors.
Add in Clancy Brown as the antagonist (who is an immortal giant because shut up), who is brilliant hamming it up as a pantomime psychopath, and you can see why this film wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed.
And it really is a crazy movie that makes little sense upon close examination. For instance, the female love interest is a Police Technician (who is an expert in metallurgy, with a specialisation in ancient swords because shut up) who tries to get close to Connor and ends up falling in love with him (for reasons).
The whole film just seems to have been written by someone who just threw a load of ideas in that he or she thought would be ‘super awesome’ without making any attempt to explain it or at least make it plausible.
It’s the sort of film which could only have been made in the 1980s. It just seems to steamroller over things like explanations or reasoning by knocking up the ridiculous to the next level (for example, the final fight has a massive set piece on top of a building, which just looks amazing, despite being nearly 30 years old). And in that, it is glorious.
That said, Highlander hasn’t aged well. As I said earlier, the fight choreography looks pretty poor by today’s standards, the effects leave a lot to be desired having been animated by hand (not to mention the wires they fail to hide for one practical effect) and the foley artist has some really dodgy sound effects for the sword fights. Plus, Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown are all ridiculous.
And yet, for all that, it is still a highly enjoyable movie. From the fantastic soundtrack (original music provided by Queen, of all people) to the sheer craziness of it all, it is still a thoroughly entertaining movie.
I love the film and completely accept that I’m viewing it through rose-tinted glasses but if you have any interest in watching a cult ‘80s film, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Highlander. Just don’t go near any of the sequels. For your own sanity.
TL:DR “Bonkers 1980s movie about an immortal Scotsman who is trained by Sean Connery, who plays an Egyptian Spaniard, to sword fight a giant. That will tell you all you need to know about whether you’ll enjoy this or not.”