Saturday, August 4, 2012

Highlander III: The Sorcerer AKA Highlander: The Final Dimension

Highlander III: The Sorcerer (AKA Highlander: The Final Dimension) (1994)
Dir. Andrew Morahan

When talking about Highlander III, legendary internet critic Noah ‘Spoony’ Antwiler once said, ‘’s not Highlander II...’
That pretty much sums up my own feelings about this movie. Highlander III is probably the best sequel in this undying series, but that’s not saying much. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not terribly memorable. If it could be known for being anything special, it would be for being an apology to anyone who endured Highlander II. Not to mention anyone who endured Highlander: Endgame, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, or most notably Highlander: The Source, which I always tell people is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. 

To talk about this movie, I really need to talk about the two that came before it, so here come the spoilers. The first Highlander movie was a very fun, but not perfect classic. The premise was very simple and involved a group of mysterious immortals around the world who could only die by having their heads cut off. They would engage in sword fights with each other until in the end, the last one remaining would gain the prize. At the end of the first movie, it came down to the protagonist Connor McLeod squaring off against the evil Kurgan. Connor won and claimed the prize, infinite wisdom and knowledge. 
The first film was a success, so naturally the creators wanted to milk it with a sequel and this is where things really began to get interesting. Highlander II is universally hated by fans of the series, but when I watched it, I knew virtually nothing about it. Just a couple weeks before, I had bought the first movie on VHS for about $5. I liked it so much I had to see its sequels and immediately bought the renegade edition of Highlander II. 
The movie looked like it took place in a futuristic setting, and didn’t appear to start off badly. There was some decent set designs, some opera music, and then..the infamous flashback sequence. In the theatrical version of Highlander II, what killed fans was the revelation that McLeod, and the other immortals are actually aliens from a planet called Zeist. What?
I probably don’t need to write anymore past that to explain what a disaster Highlander 2 was. In the renegade version, instead of being from Zeist, the immortals were from the distant past and suffered from amnesia in the future. This made more sense, but I was still awe struck by what a piece of shit the film was. I even thought I got the wrong DVD by mistake and this was some sort of Highlander parody I picked up. 
Interestingly enough, years after I got over the shock, I would re-watch Highlander II from time to time. I don’t know what it is that fascinates me about that movie. I even watched it more times than the original Highlander which was a far better film.
The point I’m trying to make with this is that a film may be bad, but it better damn well be interesting. It should have something about it that makes it memorable or something that gets people talking about it. I have both really great and really terrible films on my list of favourites, but I would never put something on there that’s just okay. 

Highlander III: The Sorcerer is just an okay film. It’s so okay that I can write a spoiler-free review. I can write a spoiler-free review only because there’s absolutely nothing to spoil about Highlander III! Anyone who’s already seen the first movie has already seen this one. There are no surprises, no twists, no reveals. This movie practically is the first one, but not as good. It really is just the film makers attempt at trying to clear away the train-wreck that came before it.  
The premise of the story is basically that Connor McLeod didn’t get the prize for killing the Kurgan in the first movie. Instead of pimping it out in Scotland like we saw in Highlander I, he’s riding around on camels in Egypt doing his best Lawrence of Arabia impression. This time, though, he’s a different man because he has an adopted son that he needs to have kidnapped later on. The boy barely appears in most of the movie, and Connor barely has any interaction with him. Connor never showed any strong desire to have a son before this movie, and this has got to be one of the most contrived character devices I’ve seen in years.
The only thing that can be more contrived than that is Kane, the main villain of this story who’s competently hammed up by Mario Van Peebles. I have to admit that Peebles doesn’t make a bad Highlander villain. He’s got a pretty cool Mongol outfit and acts appropriately insane enough. It turns out that Kane is immortal and was trapped in a cave for 400 years which makes McLeod’s showdown with the Kurgan pointless. 
What makes this so silly is that Kane isn’t any more intimidating than the Kurgan was, and since he has way less personal history with McLeod, the existence of his character feels more like a punch-line. It would be like if at the end of Return of the Jedi, after Emperor Palpatine is defeated, it turns out that there’s a guy named Roy that’s the real bad guy and needs to be killed.
Most of the movie involves scenes set in New York that try to remind people of how we’ll never get a Highlander movie quite as good as the first one was. Connor’s new love interest is Alex Johnson played by Deborah Kara Unger, who’s really just here to fill the slot left by Roxanne Hart’s character in the first film.
 I’ll just say one spoiler, it doesn’t explicitly mention what happened to Hart’s character, but I can infer from the dialogue that McLeod brutally murdered her and left her carcass in Scotland.
There’s also a detective like the one from the first film who keeps promising that he’ll nail McLeod someday. He was good for a few chuckles. And there’s a car-scare scene directly ripped off from the first movie as well, but this time it lacks the 80s Ghostbusters’ music.   
Speaking of music, Queen seems to be absent from the movie this time around.

Many would say that Highlander III: The Sorcerer is what Highlander II should have been as a sequel, but I have to disagree. They should have done more. I get that this was a movie that the film makers’ were trying to play safe with. I get that they absolutely didn’t want to piss fans off. But it just ended up taking the opposite extreme, and that’s no good. Highlander II’s problem was that it took too many risks with the story, but Highlander III took too few. In the end, neither is really all that much better, but if I had to choose a film I liked more, I would pick the former. It may have looked like Blade Runner as seen through the eyes of Joel Schumacher, but by God, it had Sean Connery!
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t mind the idea of Highlander having a futuristic setting. The idea of McLeod and his katana dueling it out with sword-wielding robots would have been cool. If they weren’t trying way too hard to force a sequel and side-step plot points from the previous movie, they could have come up with something better. In the end, though, it wasn’t good, but it was at least something different. It was Highlander II.   


-Gabe Stein

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