Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart, Beatie Edney, Hugh Quarshie
Plot: Across the globe, centuries-old immortals fight to be the last of their kind. The survivor will be given an ultimate gift.
Highlander marks one of the most disappointing landmarks in cinematic history. It is disappointing, because the core idea behind the film is actually quite intriguing. It flicks between the 1980s to Medieval times, charting the story of Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod, a Scottish tribesman is struck down in battle only to rise from the dead. It turns out he is blessed with immortality and entered into a murderous fight for survival. A mysterious gift will be given to the last Immortal to exist, meaning that MacLeod spends every moment of his life. pursued by others of his kind, especially the intimidatingly malicious Kurdan.
While the central idea is a golden one, Highlander is a sloppily-made film. For one, its leading man Christopher Lambert is an utterly baffling casting choice. When he first appears on-screen, smouldering in an atmospheric underpass, it is a promising start. But Lambert, a French-American actor, is a poor choice of hero. For one, his accent is totally wrong. When the flashbacks take us to Medieval Scotland, his poor attempt at the dialect is laughable. Half of the time he gives up and reverts back to his silky French purring, which is totally off-putting, but is much better than the few times he attempts a Scottish growl. It is incredibly amusing to watch him act alongside Sean Connery’s Egyptian Immortal who has a more prominent Scottish accent than he does. Even when he is taken to the 80s, where a foreign hero makes a little more sense, he still messes up the dialogue. Witty one-liners and smouldering quotes are lost on the actor. However, Lambert is merely the easiest thing to blame. The script is a blithering mess too. The plot doesn’t have to be as complicated as it is. Immortals slashing each other to the death should be the kind of script that can be handed out on a post-it note, but Mulcahy jumps from time period to time period, writes in a detective plot and squanders emotional moments. There was a scene where Lambert spends a lifetime with his girlfriend, as she fades away from old age, Lambert remaining youthful, that felt like it was supposed to be moderately heart-breaking. The idea behind it was sweet and a stronger moment in the story. However, when piled into a storyline that raced along faster and more hectically than it should have, it got lost in the moment. Not even a strong supporting role from Sean Connery’s mentor figure, who adds laughs can save the day. Highlander feels like a B Movie that got its hands on a big budget, but didn’t raise its game to the blockbuster levels that would have made it the movie it wanted to be.
Then why is it so popular among cult audiences? Highlander isn’t a total waste of time, pulling itself back to the realms of camp fun late in the day. Some of the fight scenes, while choreographed as well as you’d expect from a pulpy 80s film, hit the spot. The set design is grand, adding real bite to the atmosphere of the fight scenes. Connery makes a final stand on a crumbling ruin that feels a lot more intense than it probably is. And the final punch up takes place on two terrific locations. Firstly, a flooding roof-top, which sees muscular 80s action heroes, flexing their muscles in water, and ending in an empty apartment building, with electrifying lighting and a cracking soundscape. Moments like this prove that Highlander was so close to a good thing. Its ace in the hole, however, is Clancy Brown, cast in the role of the outstanding villain. Clancy Brown has popped up in various roles across his career, most recently a demonic villain in Thor: Ragnarok, but mainly he has been relegated to voice acting in animated TV shows and video games (this guy is the original Dr. Neo Cortex for all the Crash Bandicoot fans out there!) He attacks Highlander like it is the only movie role he will ever land. And after a performance as wicked entertaining as this, I am devastated the actor hasn’t had a more fruitful role in cinema. Brown plays a despicable bad guy, but with that lick of fun that somehow makes everything he does forgivable. He’s a brute, but one that can crack the right joke at the right time. A scene where he lays waste to a city while joy-riding is brilliant entertainment. He, alone, makes Highlander worth digging up.
Final Verdict: Out of all of the 80s films out there, perhaps Highlander is the one most in need of a remake. A good idea trapped in a pretty awful movie.