The year is 2024 and mankind has been living under the protection of The Shield, created as a replacement for the damaged ozone layer by the now mortal Connor MacLeod, for a quarter of a century. In the intervening years humanity has found this more of a curse than a blessing and a group of eco terrorists believe the ozone has healed itself. But this is the least of MacLeod's problems, for soon he will have to take up his sword once more to prove yet again that there can be only one.
Highlander wasn't the most successful of box office hits upon its theatrical release in 1986. However, benefiting from the 80s home video boom it gained a huge cult following, enough to warrant the possibility of a sequel that arrived with much fan anticipation in 1991. But where do you go after Connor MacLeod has completed his centuries long quest and become mortal? And how do you bring back superstar Sean Connery who was on the receiving end of a decapitation by villain The Kurgan? Fans weren't exactly best pleased with the muddled movie that attempted to answer these questions and provide an exciting adventure. Nor were the filmmakers, denied final cut due to financial difficulties. An issue rectified with the DVD release of Highlander II: The Renegade Version.
One word sums up all that was wrong with Highlander II: The Quickening…Zeist. The name of the planet that the Immortals apparently call home. Gone was the mystique of their origins to be replaced by an uninspired alien heritage. This is the most obvious element that's been excised from the Renegade Version, rejigged to place their beginnings in some distant past from which the rebellious Rameriz and MacLeod are banished to the far future, as witnessed by their nemesis General Katana whose later actions rejuvenate the old Highlander. It's still a problematic and unsatisfying plotline though and typifies this admittedly improved but still fundamentally flawed version.
A sweeping camera shot opens proceedings, with an aged MacLeod reminiscing about his early years whilst at an opera recital. Reminiscent of the wrestling match setting that opened the original returning director Russell Mulcahy's stylistic flourishes are in evidence once more. His trademark transitions between the present and the past have been reinstated and he handles the action scenes with customary style, making use of big sweeping camera moves. An early set piece is particularly well realised, with our hero up against a pair of airborne assassins. Unfortunately it's never bettered and would have made for a far more exciting finale than what audiences are saddled with. A better villain would also have helped, Michael Ironside is in hammy panto mode and while we're at it Virginia Madsen makes for a rather insipid heroine. Oh well, at least Sean Connery is on hand to provide some light relief and appears to be enjoying himself, probably more than the audience.
To say this director's cut is a better movie is a bit of a backhanded complement, as a sequel Highlander II is pretty disastrous even in this revised format. Despite deleted scenes being reinstated and the whole film re-edited to create an undeniably more coherent plot and satisfying pace it still ignores what made the original such an entertaining experience. Gone is the simplicity of concept, the romantic fantasy elements and the emotional resonance to be replaced by a pointless backstory and formulaic sci-fi trappings. At best it's a run of the mill futuristic action movie, of interest to hardcore fans who will still be irked by the numerous inconsistencies which remain. Confirming that the only way a truly entertaining version of Highlander II could reach the screen is with a complete script rewrite this Renegade Version proves that at the end of the day you can't polish a turd.
Australian director with a flashy visual style. A former music video director - most notably for Duran Duran - Mulcahy made an impact in 1984 with his first real film, the Outback creature feature Razorback. 1986's fantasy thriller Highlander was a big cult hit, and its success led to a foray in Hollywood in the 1990s, which included thrillers Ricochet and The Real McCoy, the superhero yarn The Shadow and the sequel Highlander II: The Quickening. Subsequent work has largely been in TV.