It is a little difficult to understand why they made a sequel to Highlander (1986). It is not simply because the first was so outrageously bad. If you want a full accounting of all its problems, check out that review. The main point of these films about the immortal Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) of the Clan MacLeod is to have others with long lives to fight each other with swords until there is only one left with their head still attached. That was accomplished in hilarious fashion in Highlander, which immediately begs the question: how in the heck is there a Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). Against all logic (I would say “explanation,” but that is what I am going to attempt), they went ahead with the project anyway. The result makes even less sense than the first.
Highlander II: The Quickening begins much like its predecessor. This time, though, it is 2024 and an elderly Connor sits in a private box overlooking an opera. His dozing is interrupted by a high-note from the soprano, and it triggers a flashback to . . . not the Sottish highlands as you might expect, but to some other planet called Zeist in the distant past. And right off the bat the film completely loses you. He is there with Ramirez (Sean Connery), and they are leading some kind of rebellion for nebulous reasons against the tyranny of General Katana (Michael Ironside). What that tyranny precisely is or why any of this is happening is never explained. Katana simply says crazy things and has a scar on his face, so I guess that makes him the bad guy. Whatever the case, Connor and Ramirez are captured and sent into the future of Earth where they will be immortal, until the last of them returns to the planet, or something. Before departing, Ramirez tells Connor that they have a bond that can never be broken, and that if Connor ever needs his old friend, all he has to do is call out his name. Okay. . . . Getting back to Earth in 2024, at some point before this time humanity apparently destroyed the ozone layer to the point where Connor helped Dr. Alan Neyman (Allan Rich) to build an electric shield to prevent the sun’s radiation from destroying all life on the planet. Not everyone thinks this is necessary anymore. A group of terrorists led by Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) break into the company headquarters that operates the shield, and discover that the ozone layer above it has repaired itself and that radiation levels are normal. After escaping, she unfolds a scrap of paper that has Connor’s name on it and a bar in which he could be found. While all this is happening, Katana has been monitoring Connor (somehow) and feels his old adversary is getting too comfortable. Katana wants Connor back on Zeist so that he can kill the former rebel himself. For the moment, he sends two of his henchmen into the future. Their arrival transforms Connor back into his younger self, and he manages to take both of their heads, which is the first real reminder that this is a Highlander film. It is tough fight, though, and in the middle of it Connor yells for Ramirez. The old Spaniard suddenly materializes in the middle of a performance of Hamlet in Scotland. This film’s warped sense of logic tells him that he must travel to the United States to find Connor, after getting in a new set of clothes. While Ramirez mucks about, Katana decides to take matters into his own hands, going into the future to track down Connor. Getting back to our main character, Louise is trying to convince him to get the shield corporation to take down the barrier, as well as making sense of the fight she witnessed. Connor is dubious, but when he goes to see Dr. Neyman, Louise’s assertions are confirmed by him. However, the company’s current president, David Blake (John C. McGinley), has no intentions of giving up the one thing that is bringing in the profits. When Connor returns home, he is surprised to find Ramirez in his apartment, and they have a joyous reunion, I guess. Connor has also had some run-ins with Katana at this point, barely escaping with his neck intact. Katana, for his part, magically understands that the best way to draw Connor to him is by taking over the shield corporation. Despite being an obvious trap, Connor, Louise, and Ramirez walk right into it. In the process, Ramirez sacrifices himself, telling the other two that only together can they bring the shield down, which he knows for some reason. This is apparently only half true because after Connor’s inevitable victory over Katana, he alone steps into the shaft of light that projects the shield into the sky, and destroys it. Enough said.
Even more so than the original, there are so many moments in Highlander II: The Quickening that will leave you scratching your head in utter confusion. Fair warning: if you do that every time the opportunity presents itself, you might go bald. Instead, you might want to choose laughter as a substitute for expressing your bewilderment. The strangest aspect, though, to all of this is what any of it has to do with its predecessor outside of the title and a few of the main characters. It attempts to bridge the two in a few clumsy ways. Remember the woman Connor fell in love with in the first one, Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart). You do not see her here because she died of cancer twenty-five years before this one. Perhaps there was a scheduling conflict? We are also again presented with a film where those behind it seemingly did not know what to do with the material. This is the only accounting I can give for the ozone layer/shield subplot. These movies are supposed to be about sword fighting, and “There can be only one!” Instead, the sequel attempts to shoehorn in something about environmentalism and corporate greed. Those are important subjects, but they do not seem to fit with the overall theme. The result is a total mess without an identity, that it struggles to explain to itself. Yes, when Connor reveals everything to Louise and she repeats back her understanding back to him, even he does not seem to know whether or not she gets it.
There is one somewhat interesting scene in Highlander II: The Quickening on which I would like to focus. It is actually part and parcel of the rest of the made-up, bogus crap. When Ramirez sacrifices himself, it comes as a giant, industrial sized fan is bearing down on our intrepid heroes. They are trapped in a circular room, and it is clear that unless they can escape they will all die. Suddenly, Ramirez is able to summon some kind of magical force into the palm of his hand, holding the blades at bay while also telepathically opening the doors in the room so the others can flee. He is just all of the sudden able to do this, but he says some wise words as he prepares to do so. He tells them that if they are able to concentrate their lived experiences into a single act, they are capable of achieving great things. It sounds vaguely like something you would find in a fortune cookie, but it reminds me of the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus uses the diminutive pod, which gives birth to a mighty tree, to illustrate what one can accomplish with a little Faith. He goes on to tell them that if they had a belief that could be measured in comparison to that of the mustard seed, they would be able to command mountains to be tossed into the sea. Those who wish nothing but to cynically poke holes in theology will ask why there are not a bunch of Christians going around leveling peaks. Jesus is not making a literal point, and besides, for what reason would anyone have for marring the majesty of God’s natural creations? At the same time, there have been instances when the belief in God’s wonders (for it is God who ultimately would move mountains, not us) have helped wrought undeniable miracles. Such thoughts are what keep me getting through films like this one.
When I discussed Highlander, I made the point that it is so bad it is good. With Highlander II: The Quickening, I do not feel like I can give it the same grade. It is mostly dark and depressing, and while I laughed at plenty of absurdities, it felt more like a grind getting through this one. One thing that does link it to other entries in the franchise is the nudity and sequences of over-the-top violence. In sum, I would say avoid this one. In fact, the entire series of films, as we shall see, seems to want to forget that this one exists.