A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 596 – Highlander: Endgame

Highlander: Endgame – October 17th, 2011

Oh, this movie. It’s miles ahead of its immediate predecessor and I’ll admit, there are some parts of it that I really quite enjoy. But it’s also got some really unfortunate flaws that squander its potential. I wish it had been better than it is, because one of the points behind it was to take the main character of the series – which had done rather well – and bring him onto the big screen. And since I love the series, well, I was totally on board. But then it goes and mucks with a lot of the established canon for the series (which had been rather good at staying internally consistent) and it gets messy plot-wise and there’s a lot of good material that’s just not used as well as it could be. It’s frustrating. And even more frustrating is knowing there was another movie after this, with the series characters, that I know enough about to know I will never watch it. I wanted so much better for the series cast.

As with all the others, this movie involves an epic battle between Immortals. In this case there’s a baddie named Jacob Kell who’s been hunting down Connor MacLeod not just to kill him, but to take away everything he ever loved. This is in retribution for Connor killing Kell’s father. Never mind that Kell’s father was, at the time, burning Connor’s mother at the stake. Kell’s been racking up heads and is now super powerful. Too powerful for either Connor or his younger kinsman, Duncan, to take on alone. Complicating matters are two things: Connor’s ennui and an old lover of Duncan’s (Kate, a.k.a. Faith) who’s taken up with Kell. There’s some more stuff involving the Watchers – a group of mortals who track Immortals and keep records of their lives – but honestly it mostly serves as worldbuilding and character development for the movie, not as an essential plot point. Eventually Connor and Duncan settle on what to do about Kell and there’s a big climactic fight.

So, here’s my problem with this movie: Kate. That’s not its only problem, but it’s the one that sticks in my craw. Because I don’t honestly think her presence in the movie is necessary. She gives Duncan a little bit of motivation, but how much motivation did he need other than Connor and the clan? Did he really need this wife he’d totally forgotten about to push him into facing the baddie? I honestly don’t think so, but there she is, lurking through the whole movie. And in the process she mucks with the canon provided by the series that Duncan is from. Maybe it’s not a big deal for this movie that Duncan MacLeod had never been married and was told he never would be, but it was a pretty huge plot point for the series. Not to mention that her character arc requires that Duncan had killed her on their wedding night so they could be together forever as Immortals and that seems, well, a little out of character for him. And then he doesn’t remember her when he sees her again in New York! Again, out of character. Duncan MacLeod is not a man who would ever forget a woman who meant that much to him and then it’s supposed to be this big dramatic love story that causes angst for Duncan in the present day. So her character arc messes with an established main character for the movie and it provides very little for the actual story.

Look, I have no problem with there being a romantic subplot. The other movies have romantic arcs and the series has a bunch of women Duncan sleeps with or has slept with or wants to sleep with. But Kate’s arc is so poorly handled. It could have been done well, but it wasn’t. The backstory could have been better. The prior relationship could have made more sense. They could have done so much more with her. So much better. And it’s all just a mess. Also, at the risk of sounding pedantic, when Kate asks Duncan to give her back her ability to bear children? That’s all well and good, but she never had it. The series (and yes, I am going to harp on that because they took Duncan from the series) established that even prior to full Immortality anyone with the potential to become Immortal couldn’t have children. Nitpicky, yes, but it’s mentioned multiple times. It’s a major thing for male and female Immortals alike. I guess I shouldn’t expect much better, considering the movies’ past track record with prior established canon, but I do because there are other things in the movie that do follow along.

The relationship between Duncan and Connor as cousins and friends and student and teacher? Yup, that’s established. The Watchers and their not-so-slowly evolving role as meddlers instead of just observers? The database developed by Methos with records of all the Immortals and their histories? Connor’s home and his adopted daughter? Those are all established pieces of plot and story and worldbuilding and I like all of that. And I want the Kate storyline to work. I wish it did. It would make the whole movie better if it did because the character development it was obviously meant to do for Duncan was a good concept. It’s just built on a flimsy foundation.

From what I’ve read, it looks like this movie went through some unfortunate changes when the Highlander spinoff series The Raven got canceled. I wish I could have seen the earlier versions of the screenplay or the original concepts. I suspect there were other things done with the romantic plot and I suspect some characters, such as Jin Ke (one of Kell’s followers) were more fleshed out. His interactions with Duncan and Kate suggest there’s more to his character and backstory, but we never see it, which is a shame. Given the themes of mistakes and redemption and the effects of a long life on the emotional and mental stability of those who’ve lived it? There could have been some really interesting stuff there. For that matter, why not do more with Methos? He’s in the movie, but he’s really just fanservice, which is silly since as the oldest Immortal and one with a particularly nasty past you’d have thought they could work that in there. And if we’re going to look at the series much of the subject matter of this movie had already been covered in there (Methos, Something Wicked, Deliverance, Comes a Horseman, Revelation 6:8, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Archangel, Avatar, Armageddon and To Be and Not To Be, to name a few relevant episodes). Oh well.

Honestly, I like this movie. I love the first movie and all, but my true love is the series. I greatly enjoyed seeing Duncan MacLeod get the focal role here and I loved seeing the Watchers and two of my favorite series characters (Joe Dawson and Methos) and it’s got some really fantastic fight scenes. Duncan and Jin Ke in Connor’s old condo? Fan-fucking-tastic. There’s a whole crapload of swordfighting in the movie and well, that’s one of the things I love about the entire franchise. I’m a sucker for swordfighting. It makes me happy like little else. I love Highlander as a concept because I love the idea of Immortals fighting with swords and leading these long and conflicted lives, and I mean conflicted both in terms of physical combat and moral conflict. Those series episodes I mentioned above? Aside from the Archangel/Avatar/Armageddon arc, those are some of my favorites in the whole series precisely because they deal with the concepts of past actions and consequences and just what might happen when one has lived for such a long time. And that’s what this movie is dealing with. I have no problem seeing Connor in the emotional state he’s in during this movie. I mean, realistically speaking, Christopher Lambert was getting too noticeably aged to keep playing an Immortal character who never grows old, so it was time for him to officially pass the torch. But it works for me in terms of character and plot too. So yeah, there’s a lot for me to like here. I just really wish that the Kate arc had been better handled. It would have made the movie far more solid and fun to watch.

October 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 594 – Highlander

Highlander (Director’s Cut) – October 15th, 2011

I’ve been saving this movie for two reasons. The first reason is that I love it and I didn’t want to waste it early in the project. The second reason is that this movie spawned sequels that, well, make me sad just by existing. And we’ll have to talk about that. Then again, the movie also spawned the television series, which is perhaps my very favorite television show of all time aside from Star Trek (and Star Trek is on a level all its own, so I usually discount it in this sort of judgement). It’s a weird movie with a weird following and have you heard there are plans to do a remake? Yes. There are plans to do a remake. That’s the sort of legacy this movie has.

Let’s talk for a moment about the bizarre array of related media that this movie inspired before we go talking about the movie itself. I’m always amused by discussions in other fandoms when it comes to ignoring bits and pieces of canon. Highlander fans have had to become quite skilled at denial. We’ve had to be, given some of the bizarre self-contradictory stuff that’s been put out. Not only is there the sequel-we-don’t-ownl, but there are actually three more movies after that. And an anime movie. And an animated series. And a video game based on that animated series. And the live action television series. And the book series based on the live action television series. I think there’s yet another video game out there and as I said, there’s a remake in the works and a new book series that’s looking for funds through Kickstarter (or it was a couple of weeks ago) so, that’s a lot. All from this movie. Something about it just makes people want to keep making stuff based on it. I’d say it’s an attempt to cash in on the success of this one but after all of the weird crap that’s been put out, it’s not like making something Highlander-based is a guaranteed success. Far from it.

I would say that this is somewhat of a polarizing movie. I’ve met people who love it – quite a few people – and I’ve met people who hate it and think it’s the most boring piece of crap they’ve ever seen. I’m one of the former. My mother is one of the latter. There’s just something about it and I don’t know precisely what it is. Personally speaking, I have a great fondness for kilts, swordfighting and the concept of immortality having both positives and negatives. So, really, this movie is tailor made for me. The series goes into it in more depth, but this movie definitely touches the key points. And has a bunch of fight scenes with clanging swords and lightning. What’s not to like? Okay, I can see how people might not be able to get into both the historical setting stuff with Connor MacLeod and his first love, Heather, living together in medieval Scotland as well as the modern murder mystery type stuff. In that sense I can understand that there’s a limited audience there. The movie has quite a few different genres tossed together and while I happen to think it works well, other people might well be turned off by one or more aspect and that would be that.

Since the story deals with a character who is “Immortal” and his background, it necessarily involves some bouncing between time periods. We meet Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod as he’s about to go into battle for the first time. He gets his ass killed and then rises from the dead only to be cast out from his clan because they think he’s possessed. Eventually he and a woman named Heather settle down in the ruins of a castle in the middle of nowhere, and he seems pretty content with that until Sean Connery shows up and tells him he’s immortal and has to learn how to fight duels to the death-by-beheading. Because that’s what Immortals do in this movie’s world. In the modern world Connor is living in New York and working as an antique dealer. When he gets into a duel in a parking garage and leaves the body behind, along with some traces of his super special katana, the police get involved and start to investigate him. So we go back and forth from the present day, where forensic specialist Brenda Wyatt has zeroed in on him due to her interest in swords and the past, where he trains with his new teacher, Ramirez (that would be Connery) and learns about being an Immortal. And through it all is a villain called the Kurgan, played with gusto by Clancy Brown. He’s a raider with a skull helmet in the past and a punk in a leather jacket in the present and he is a fantastically evil villain. I adore him.

The thing about villains in the Highlander universe is that they need personalities, but they don’t really always need motivation to be villains. After all, the universe has canon set up in such a way that the main characters fight other people with swords as a matter of course. That’s how they live. That’s half the point of the whole endeavor! So you’ve got a reason for your hero and your villain to be fighting. They fight because of course they fight! So really, what you need to do for your villain is make him evil. Make him power hungry and bloodthirsty and make him a jackass. Of course, in the series they had to do more than that or it would have gotten mighty boring, but in the first movie? Not so necessary. Set the Kurgan up as a dude who likes the high he gets from chopping other Immortals’ heads off and you’re good to go. I know I’ve complained in the past about villains that are evil just ’cause, but really, that’s not the case here. The Kurgan wants to be the last living Immortal so he can have all the power for himself and use it to rule the world. That’s some mighty fine motivation. Simple, blunt, but it’ll do. Especially when Clancy Brown seems to have had so much fun with the part.

I’ll admit, the love story part of it isn’t leaving me swooning, but I’m not really a swooning sort of person, so I don’t hold it against the movie. What I do like is how clearly the movie shows that part of the lives of the Immortals in this world is that they’ll have to say goodbye to people they love and they’ll have to move on with their lives and start fresh. In the modern day scenes Connor is flirting with Brenda and while there are ulterior motives at work for both of them, in the end there is a romance there and it’s just as believable as Connor’s romance with Heather. And it’s not that he’s forgotten Heather, it’s just that it was hundreds of years ago. That’s the sort of thing I like seeing in stories about immortality and immensely long lives. It’s not just not dying. It’s living through the deaths of others.

I would be remiss in my reviewing duties for this movie if I didn’t also mention the soundtrack. It’s entirely done by Queen, and it is fantastic. It’s just one more thing on top of everything else about this movie that makes me love it. Sure, it’s a little ridiculous and sure, it’s got some special effects errors and sure, it’s got its detractors. But it remains one of my favorites, despite the flaws and despite the sequels and despite everything. It’s got enough fun to it and it pushes enough of my buttons that I will always enjoy it.

October 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment