When “Highlander 2” came out, people were mad as hell – I remember, because I was one of them. It was so stupid! Aliens? Who dreamed this rubbish up? But I find, as an older more jaded man, a film that was so completely OTT inspires fonder memories than some barely-above-average, much more sensible movie. Unluckily for me, the people behind this movie didn’t agree with me.
So, I’d like to give a crash course in Hollywood doublespeak. “Highlander 2” was filmed mostly in Argentina, but when they went over-budget (or, depending on who you believe, a crash in the value of the Argentine peso left them broke, a story which makes no sense) filming was stopped and the footage was taken out of the hands of the producers by the guarantors, edited as best they could manage, and released. What’s important to remember, and what the producer and director didn’t tell you in the featurette attached to the DVD, is that these insurance people didn’t write or film any new scenes. So when you see the first “Highlander” movie completely ignored to be a story about the immortals being aliens from the planet Zeist, and them handwaving away the death of Sean Connery in part 1, that was their plan from the beginning!
The theatrical version is considered one of the worst movies of all time, so in 1995 Russell Mulcahy, to his credit, realised he’d made a horrible mistake and secured funding to get the rights to the movie back, plus all the filmed footage. He re-edited, filmed a few new scenes, and released the “Renegade Version” – although if you watched the featurette you’d have no idea whose idea the stupid alien thing was (hint: it was Mulcahy’s). Filmed interviews from the set during the original filming even have Christopher Lambert saying “none of us wanted to do a sequel unless the story was right”, which gives the lie to the whole “it was the accountants’ fault” rubbish.
But anyway. What’s this version like? Rather than being aliens from the planet Zeist, all the immortals are just from Earth’s far-distant past (a past that has crashed space-ships in it, but don’t let that worry you). Ramirez (Sean Connery) and McLeod (Lambert) are the leaders of the resistance against the evil General Katana (Michael Ironside), and after being captured are given a rather bizarre punishment. Because they’re immortals, which not all the past-people are, they’re to be sent to the future, to fight with all the other immortals who’ve had a similar punishment, until there’s only one left…then that guy can either become mortal or go back to the past. This makes far less sense than just saying “they’re aliens” (did they wipe their memories? Why send them all back to different times?), and has the added bonus of being much more boring.
The majority of the film takes place in 2024, though. McLeod used “The Prize” from the first movie to become super-smart, it would seem, and goes from being an antique dealer to inventor of a giant red bubble-shield-thing which protects the earth from the destroyed ozone layer. This bubble has messed up everything, though, to the point the entire Earth looks like the sleaziest bits of “Blade Runner” (which the producers are careful to say they definitely didn’t rip off). Some environmental activists, led by Virginia Madsen, believe the layer has healed itself and the shield can be turned off; the guy in charge of the Shield Corporation, John C McGinley, naturally has another opinion. Katana sends some mean hombres forward in time to kill McLeod, but when they fail (at the same time, giving him their Quickening, turning him from an old man into prime young Lambert) he decides to go forward himself and finish off the job.
Undoubtedly, some of the edits and changes make it better. It’s longer by 18 minutes but that 18 minutes was needed – some motivation is fleshed out and there’s more of a sense of why people want to fight other people. It is, definitely, a more competent film. But when you’re cutting round footage that was intended to tell one story, and trying to tell another, joins will start to show. Virginia Madsen has a speech which was clearly intended, at around the halfway mark, to refresh everyone’s memory about the plot, but changing them to time travellers whose immortality is dependent on which time they’re in leaves it making zero sense.
One of my main problems, with both versions of the movie, is the lack of prime Connery and Lambert. They bounce off each other superbly, and while we get some awesome scenes of Connery adapting to 21st century life (although how he got on an intercontinental flight with no passport is never revealed), the two of them don’t meet up til 1:15, and Connery is gone by 1:30. Ironside tries, leaving no scenery unchewed, and Madsen is good in a thankless role, but it’s not the same.
Okay, it’s a “better” film. But it’s still not like it’s any good, really – going from F- to D+ isn’t that much of an improvement – and the original “Highlander 2” is so odd and incomprehensible that, in a way, it’s much more entertaining than the “Renegade Version” (ooh, those millionaire Hollywood directors and producers are “renegades” now?). But if you’ve ever read a recap of the original version and felt personally insulted, this could be the movie for you.
Rating: thumbs in the middle