Highlanderrecommended viewing

There can be only one--but now, for a limited time, there can be TWO!
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1986
Director: 
Russell Mulcahy
Starring: 
Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown
The Setup: 
Immortal comes to New York, battles other immortal.
Discussion: 

I had of course seen this movie back in the day, and could see why boys my age thought it was cool, and it had always been vaguely on my list to see again. Then a regular reader and pen pal wrote me and went beyond suggesting it to rather INSISTING that I watch it NOW, no, I mean, NOW. So of course I complied, because I'm a big sub bottom that likes getting bossed around.

So I had forgotten that Sean Connery was in this one (I knew he was in the sequel, but...) and I had also forgotten that the music was by Queen, where it actually works, in contrast to some other movie we could name. We open at a pro wrestling match, where we find our hero Christopher Lambert in the audience. The match reminds him of his past. He senses something odd, and goes downstairs to the parking garage, where he is soon engaged in swordplay with some dude. They engage in a battle which clearly called upon the skills of Bob's Discount Fight Choreography and Auto Parts Emporium, then the enemy is decapitated. This causes numerous cars to start, their lights to come on, and finally for them to explode. Then a big light and burst of energy goes into Lambert, who is named MacLeod, by the way. What a feeling! Feeling's believing! He can have it all--now he's dancing for his life!

FLASH BACK to 1536, when MacLeod was a Scotsman of the clan MacLeod, who hung out in furs with wenches and castles and shit like that. He got killed by Skull-Man, and died. But then--how is he still alive??? This movie is drawing me in with its intriguing premise. Anyway, Lambert goes outside and--holy shit, that's Madison Square Garden, I used to live right around there. And this shows me how it used to look in 1986. Lambert is arrested, and taken back into the garage, now crawling with cops, for questioning. Here we introduce Brenda, fluffy-coiffed cop who just HAPPENS to also be an expert on the swords of yesteryear. They question MacLeod, who used his utterly inexpressive face to deft effect when eluding police suspicion. I love that the police are all focused on the decapitated body, but don't even seem to notice the NUMEROUS cars that have exploded! And all the people up at the wrestling match who came down afterward to find their cars incinerated, well, they all just shrugged and went home without complaint. You know, a lot of times, people don't mind their cars being destroyed at all.

Meanwhile, badass dude Kruger comes to town and checks into a sleazy hotel. Then MacLeod is at Peter Magnus' on 20th and 7th, and when he comes out we get a fascinating view of Chelsea in 1986. This movie actually has a lot of great NYC footage from the day. I could accept that opposite Magnus', in the very center of Midtown, was a gas station, but I found it a little hard to swallow when MacLeod ducks into an abandoned lot across the street to find a gargantuan power station. Anyway, there he is attacked by Kruger, and Brenda sees it, but it's a standoff. I do love how the police in the helicopter shouts "Hey! You! Come back here!” with the audacity of hope.

Now we return to 1536 to find that some guys, somehow, brought MacLeod back to life. But this didn't sit well with his buddies, who found it a tad creepy. So they banished him. Okay, back to 1986, where we find that MacLeod is now an antiques dealer with an awesome SoHo apartment. Brenda visits him there, intrigue, intrigue, then back to 1536, where the wandering MacLeod and his lovely ladyfriend are chilling when they meet Sean Connery as Juan Sanchez. We later discover that Sanchez is supposed to be Egyptian. I'm sure you can see how Sean Connery could easily be mistaken for Egyptian. Anyway, he soon dumps MacLeod, who can't swim, into the water, and here is where we learn for sure that Lambert is actually not keenly underplaying with a stoic face, but actually cannot act worth a God damn. He flails in the water, going "Help! Heeellllp! Heeeeeeeellllllllpppp!" then sinks to the bottom. We then join him on the lake floor, where he mimes "I'm alive!" then checks his fingers and his face in a way that will kind of make you a little embarrassed for humanity.

SPOILERS > > >
Turns out dude is immortal. Then Sanchez trains him in swordplay during what can only be described as the Karate Kid montage, wherein we see that all sword training is best accomplished atop a high rocky outcropping where a helicopter might circle around, getting dramatic shots. It's a little funny to imagine them having to go through strenuous rock-climbing just to do some sword training the could do anywhere, but you know, we also never see Batman apply his eyeliner. Personally, I'm a little confused over why Sanchez and MacLeod can be friends if there can be only one (I'm also not clear on why an Egyptian is named Sanchez), but you know what, I don't NEED to know. Please don't write me to explain.

Sanchez tells MacLeod to ditch his wife, because he's immortal and she'll only get old and craggy, which, to me, presents the obvious solution that MacLeod and Sanchez get together. But it's not for them. Then, one night when MacLeod is out at Wal-Mart, Kruger stops by his castle. Sanchez tells the wife twice that she should get out, but she thinks it might be more helpful to simply stand and scream. Battle, battle, and Sanchez buys it. Soon after, MacLeod is having memories of his final days with his wife, when she was indeed old and craggy, but he has remained with her. Then she dies. Soon after, we're seeing MacLeod fighting in the Civil War, and blah blah til today.

After a date with Brenda, we join Kruger in the present day, where he gets into a big swordfight in a SoHo alley with a fellow immortal (so how many ARE there? And they're all in New York?). They are joined by this random survivalist who is out patrolling the streets for danger. Kruger kills the immortal, with all the attendant blowing out of windows and lightning and shit, stabs the survivalist, and ends up stealing the car of this older couple who happened to be wandering by. There is also a big cast of New York weirdos on hand to witness, and Kruger ends up driving off with the elderly lady on the hood, screaming her head off. It's at this point where you realize that this movie is insane and riotously over the top in a fun way. Well, you've realized that already. This is where it is reconfirmed.

Soon after Brenda figures out that MacLeod changes identities every few years, he confides his immortality to her, and they make sweet love. Then Kruger kidnaps her and takes her to Brooklyn, tying her to the Silvercup Studios sign (which is a big, quite visible rooftop sign in New York). MacLeod gets there, and before you know it, a water tower has fallen over, covering the whole rooftop in water. Then their battle brings down the sign, and if you look, at certain points you can see 100% visible ropes pulling it over. Still, between the water tower and this, it's a big, spectacular fight and you have to appreciate their wish to show us a super-impressive battle.

It ends up one floor down, on an abandoned warehouse floor with big windows, all wet from the water above, and after a long battle, MacLeod relieves Kruger of his head. Then a bunch if swirling demons and lightning and fire appear, including Mulcahy's favorite, banks of windows blowing out at the same time, as MacLeod shouts "I know everything! I AM everything!" Well, you know, a little humility wouldn't hurt. Soon after, he is making that patented Lambert confused-puppy look and intoning "There can be only one!" and that's it.
< < < SPOILERS END

So from this distance it looks like an ultra-cheesy goofy movie classic, although one has to acknowledge that to a fourteen-year-old boy in 1986, this was beyond cool. You have all the swordplay, magic, immortality, vague historical feeling, then huge, over-the-top fights in common locations like parking garages and alleys, then massive blowouts like the big finale with the smashed water tower and falling sign. And the whole thing is suffused with a giddy sense of fun, with touches like the old lady clinging to the speeding car because--why the hell not? So it goes all-out to be a crowd-pleaser to those who might be, you know, fourteen. And I'm not sure, but I think at the time this may have been one of the only things like it; an action movie with a big, overblown, massive silliness that is also super-awesome.

Although, as I said, in retrospect, it is unbelievably cheesy.

If you like this, you might want to check out Mulcahy's other big movie (after a Highlander sequel or two), The Shadow. That is a superhero movie that takes place in the 30s, and features a nice comedic performance by Alec Baldwin, awesome and detailed production design (including a nice 30s New York City), and also a super-fun overriding sense of silliness, as well as Mulcahy's favorite: banks of glass blowing out at the same time. Don't get me wrong: that movie is a TOTAL MESS, but it's super fun and way over the top, like this one is.

Apparently there is a remake of this in the works, of course, and it'll be interesting to see whether they remain in the silly-but-awesome vein, or try to go full-on serious. I suspect they'll go for seriousness, and gravity. Nothing here is going to be that new and refreshingly different, as his one was, so we'll just have to see whether we end up with something fun or dreary. In the meantime, if you've never seen this, you've got a night of super-cheesy yet ultra-awesome 80s waiting for you.

Should you watch it: 

If you've never seen it. Or if you've seen it so long ago you don't recall how enormously cheesy it all is.