With the words “There Can Be Only One”, the film Highlander unleashed a phenomenon that carried the idea through 4 sequels, a television series, an animated series, and 2 animated movies. So, was the original film, which starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, really that good? Or was it the idea that has caused it to live on as long as the immortals themselves?
Christopher Lambert, who would later reinvigorate his flagging movie career with his role as another immortal, Lord Raiden, in Mortal Kombat (1995), first picks up the sword as Connor MacLeod in Highlander. He’s got a thick accent (which is a muddied European, to coincide with his character hanging around various parts of Europe for centuries). He also has a trance-like stare (due to myopia occurring at an early age). With all this added to his wimpy exterior, he seems rather ill-suited to playing an immortal character who has been supposedly fighting for centuries. Despite all that, he does a decent enough job with the role anyway.
Sean Connery, of course, is an easy fit as Connor’s elder teacher. His actual Scottish origins come through more strongly than his character’s apparently Spanish heritage, however, and should have been written in as such. The only reason it seems the film wasn’t rewritten to more fit him was that his Scottish portrayal would make Lambert’s Scotsman look even more ridiculous in comparison.
Roxanne Hart is largely forgettable as Lambert’s present-day love interest. On the other hand, Clancy Brown is a rather fun but entirely too simplistic of a villain. The biker clothes and the tats are a decent look for him, but silly to mark someone as a bad guy. Sadly, they continue to be used to portray villainous characters, in everything from The Terminator (1984) to the anti-hero Danny Trejo in Machete (2010).
While the basic idea behind Highlander – immortals battling to become the last of their kind – is a strong one, it’s progression in this original film leaves a bit to be desired. Flashbacks abound in the film, and are way over used. On top of that, the flashbacks tend to distract from the modern-day New York saga, rather than enhance it. Some of the plot points don’t make any sense (it really takes Kruger centuries to find the guy again, despite the fact Connor visited the scene of the crime soon after it happened?). Huge gaps of time (centuries, including the whole Guillotine phase, which would have been a dangerous time for these particular immortals) are brushed over without a backwards glance. Then there’s a pause in the film just to reveal how Connor met his secretary Rachel. The uneven pace of the film makes the viewer think a lot of scenes that the filmmakers did keep could have easily been removed.
But that strong fantasy idea of immortals in battles to the death (yes, that sounds like an oxymoron) is so gripping, even the faults of the film (of which there are many), and the rather uneven acting can’t destroy the fantasy the immortals-in-battles-to-the-death idea conjures completely.
Then there’s the strange questions the film raises. How the heck did a sequel get made with that ending? What’s up with those gleaming white shoes?
With all of it’s faults, Highlander is a film that almost survives in spite of itself.