In 1985 the original “Highlander” movie was released. It was a muddle of myth and swordplay involving a Scotsman named Connor MacLeod, a member of a group rather erroneously called the Immortals, since while they lived for centuries they were all subject to being killed through decapitation by another of their special kind. Though the narrative was a mess, and Christopher Lambert, with his mushy continental accent, couldn’t have been a less convincing Scot, the picture was tolerable because of the visual plushness it enjoyed as a result of the direction of Russell Mulcahy, who brought his music video expertise to bear in swooping crane shots and extravagant compositions. A sequel followed in 1991, subtitled “The Quickening” (which referred to how an immortal who killed another was suddenly suffused with the vanquished foe’s energy); if anything it was even more incomprehensible than its predecessor, but once again it benefitted from Mulcahy’s virtuoso helming. Two years later a syndicated TV series hit the tube, featuring Adrian Paul as Connor’s kinsman Duncan, whom the older man trained and then sent off on his own; it ran for six or seven seasons. A third feature intervened in 1994 (with Lambert again), but without Mulcahy’s contribution it was bland visually as well as dramatically. Now what’s called the “final chapter” is offered us, with Lambert and Paul teaming up against an arch-villain named Kell (Bruce Payne), a rogue immortal who doesn’t follow “the rules” (whatever they are) and is systematically killing off his brethren, saving special hatred for Connor, who, way back in the sixteenth century, killed his daddy, a priest who was burning Connor’s poor mother at the stake. The only way to defeat this menace is for the MacLeods to use their joint power against him and his punkish group of followers (who are, truth to tell, pretty dumb to put themselves at the disposal of any other immortal).
This last installment of the saga, unfortunately, resembles the third picture rather than the first two. It’s slackly directed by Doug Aarniokoski, who exhibits none of the Mulcahy panache and has his cast recite their lines slowly and solemnly, as though they were addressing imbeciles. This might be because Joel Soisson’s screenplay crams in loads of exposition to meet the needs of those who might not be familiar with the backstory, and in the process resorts to so many flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash-sideways that the viewer gets woozy just trying to keep his chronological and topographical bearings, let alone care about what’s going on. Soisson doesn’t give much character to Connor or Duncan, either; they remain grim and intense throughout, without much sense of humor or romance, even though the story makes much of how devastated they both are at the loss of their past loves. The villain is a bore, too: as played by Payne, Kell is a pompous, preening gasbag who enunciates all his limp lines so precisely that he might be giving a elocution lesson. There are a couple of decent action moments, provided by the likes of Donnie Yen, who adds some martial arts touches, but even the fights are staged so murkily that one can barely make out what’s going on.
Nor, finally, does the flick make clear what’s the end result of all the centuries of combat. Does only one immortal survive at the end? Or are there others still about? If the former, has the world changed in some way? Is the human race affected by the outcome? None of this is made clear, or even unclear, and so the picture seems to be the same pointless exercise in violence and pseudo-mystical twaddle that the whole series has represented since 1986. And since the material no longer catches the eye in the same way it did with Mulcahy’s touch, it no longer possesses even that small sliver of value. This “Highlander” is thus a game one should simply refuse to play.