Highlander: Endgame, part one
I hate Highlander: Endgame. I don’t hate it because it’s a bad movie – it is, but not the worst film in the franchise. No, I hate this movie because it stinks of lies.
Due to the popularity of Highlander: The Series, the television show became the default continuity, more or less, of the franchise. There were several spinoffs, and all of them with the exception of Highlander: The Animated Series and Highlander III used the show’s continuity. In that continuity, the original film happened, but Connor defeating the Kurgan was the beginning of the Gathering, not the end. Many other spinoff products, including books and comics, acted as extensions of the series. Of those spinoff products, the one I would recommend is An Evening At Joe’s, an anthology that features short stories from the cast and really helps to flesh out the characters of the series. The rest are about the quality you’d expect from licensed novels, i.e. on par with a typical R.A. Salvatore book. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The comics are pretty decent, although they suffer from some continuity glitches here and there. But this is a film rant, and one about Highlander: Endgame, so I’ll focus on that.
Actually, I can’t do it right now. I hate this film a lot. Let me talk about the spinoffs a bit more and it will lead into this shitty movie, I promise.
Among the spinoffs, there was a fan-created project called The Methos Chronicles. It came about in 2001 and was a series of flash animations, each lasting about three minutes or so and featuring the voice of Peter Wingfield himself as Methos. The animation itself is pretty poor, since it was created when Flash animation was still a new thing, but the plot was decent and Wingfield was still kicking ass as the charismatic and smarmy oldest immortal. In this series, we got to see some of Methos’ old life as a pharaoh in Egypt, where he assassinated his immortal mentor and had him mummified as revenge for killing Methos’ family. When the mummy is unearthed thousands of years later, Methos must contend with one of his oldest foes. Unfortunately, we’ll never know how the story was meant to end, because it went unfinished. Some other fans produced their own continuation of the saga with varying levels of quality. One of the more interesting continuations I’ve seen involved Methos meeting Ramirez (remember, Ramirez was an Egyptian pretending to be a Spaniard and played by a Scot). Without Wingfield voice acting, though, the fan-created supplementary material loses a lot in terms of quality, and the animation level wasn’t high enough for there to really be much quality in the first place. Still, Methos and Ramirez would be a story I could get into.
Why do I bring up The Methos Chronicles and the possibility of Methos and Ramirez riding around on adventures? Because it would have made a much better movie than what we got with Highlander: Endgame.
It’s worth noting that I don’t use the term “hate” in regards to movies lightly (actually, I do, but I rarely mean it). I hate Eraserhead because of the pseudo-intellectual babble that I get when people try to explain to me that a large-cheeked woman stomping on giant sperm is somehow deep and meaningful. I hate Triumph of the Will not only because it was a Nazi propaganda film but also because I had to sit all the way through that borefest for a film class. But most movies I don’t like are just bad – easily ignored or, in cases like Highlander III, bad in just the right way so I can enjoy watching them for the unintentional comedy when I’m in the right mood. But I hate Highlander: Endgame. I hate what it did to the franchise and the characters. I hate the way the studio squandered away a potentially good film. I hate the half-assed acting of most of cast, and I hate the scenery-chewing pain in the ass that is Bruce Payne as Jacob Kell. I hate the sets, I hate the directing, I hate the blatant product placement. I hate the cheap homages to the original film that only serve to remind us all how much better the first film was and how deeply buried under fifteen years of cinematic excrement it was. Most of all, I hate the trailer.
The trailer, you ask? Why hate the trailer, of all things?
I hate the trailer not only because it provided the fleeting hope that this could be a good movie, but because it was full of lies. And I don’t mean the typical way a trailer misleads an audience about the film. The trailer wasn’t just edited in a way that covered up the film’s flaws. It didn’t include scenes that were part of the movie but wound up getting cut for time, as was the case with trailers leading up to Iron Man 2. No, this trailer was actually designed as a lie. The trailer was flat-out false advertising. To illustrate my point, here it is:
Okay, I admit that even after seeing the trailer, I had my doubts about this film. And yeah, it features a bunch of magic junk that I still think is a bad mix with the franchise. But overall, it looked pretty cool. We’ve got an apparently unstoppable immortal hunting the MacLeods through time – the type of guy who can’t even be defeated through conventional means, because he’s taken so many heads that he has manifested magical powers. We’ve got a line of badass evil immortals walking through a burning street. Most of all, we’ve got Connor and Duncan needing to team up against this big bad guy. For a brief moment, we get to set aside the tagline of, “There can be only one,” because this Jacob Kell guy is such a big threat that both the badass MacLeods need to take him on.
Too bad none of that happened in the film.
The reason I hate this trailer so much is because the scenes portrayed in it were never in this movie. They weren’t even deleted scenes – they were scenes that literally got filmed just for the trailer. There is no place for this stuff in the plot. There is no magic-wielding evil immortal. There is no badass line of immortals walking through burning streets. There is no team-up between the MacLeods. In fact, given how out of character they both are in this film, I would argue that there are no MacLeods at all in this film. These scenes were filmed just for the trailer and have no place in any version of the script. In other words, the assholes in charge knew they had a terrible movie on their hand, so they went back and filmed a bunch of badass scenes in a deliberate attempt to lie to fans and get them to see the movie in theatres. That is a blatant case of false advertising. This fucking trailer should be considered a crime.
I’m not one of those people who thinks that creators owe their fans anything. If we as Highlander fans are stupid enough to sit through crap like Highlander II and III, then we deserve the pain that’s coming to us. But this…this is bullshit. This is the studio outright lying about the film they’re making – not misleading audiences through clever editing or a good ad campaign, but flat-out lying. This is practically the same as them stealing money from the fans’ pockets.
Some of you might be thinking, “Dude, you watched the other Highlander sequels. You had to know this one was going to be bad.” And yeah, maybe I and others like me should have known it was going to suck. But really, Highlander was still a pretty strong franchise at this point. The movie came out in 2000, just a couple of years after the ending of an excellent series. Moreover, Highlander: The Raven, while bad and canceled after only one season, had shown some potential in the last half of its episodes. Especially with Christopher Lambert returning as Connor MacLeod, there was reason to believe that the franchise had a bit more life in it. At the very least, there was no reason to expect it to be abysmal. Mediocre, maybe. A disappointment, perhaps. But the equivalent of the creators spitting in the audience’s faces? That seemed unlikely, especially considering the guy they brought in to write the script.
Who would the studio pick to bring the TV show and the movie line together? None other than Gregory Widen, the guy who had created this franchise with his original script to Highlander way back in the 1980s. There are a lot of rumors as to what Widen’s script was supposed to be like – a totally new story involving other immortals, a flashback story involving Connor and Ramirez, or even a way to bridge the gap between the original series and The Raven. Widen’s script supposedly involved heavy doses of Methos and also the appearance of fan-favorite Hugh Fitzcairn in flashbacks. It went through several possible titles, including Highlander IV: The Immortals, Highlander: The Search for Connor, and my personal favorite, Highlander: World Without End. Widen was even in talks to direct the film. So what the hell happened?
Well, somewhere along the line, Hollywood politics interfered and Widen was booted from the project. His script was rewritten so much that he didn’t even get a writing credit, only getting a “Characters created by” byline in the film. The eventual screenwriter was Joel Soisson, who at that point in his career had been a producer but never a writer, having only aided in the screenplay of two projects: a TV release called Blue Tiger and something called Hambone and Hillie. Douglas Aarniokoski was eventually named director of the film. So in terms of directing, the studio told the guy who had written Highlander and done the screenplay and direction for The Prophecy to go shove it while turning over the reigns to a guy who hadn’t directed a film before and whose creative credits included stuff like Puppet Master 5.
That in a nutshell is the greatest problem with Highlander: Endgame – it suffered from too much studio interference. No one working on the project even knew what it was supposed to be. Was it a bridge between Highlander: The Series and Highlander: The Raven? Was it a way to connect the movies and the series into one continuity? Was it just a mindlessly entertaining action flick? Not even the director seemed to know.
If you look at Endgame carefully, you can see three very good movies that got mashed together due to the constant state of flux behind the scenes. There is a story of Connor MacLeod disappearing and retreating to an immortal sanctuary where he no longer has to cope with death. That could have been an interesting tale showing how Connor’s loneliness finally got to him and adding an element of tragedy when he realizes that he can’t just hide from his immortality. There is a story of one of Connor’s clansmen, also immortal, seeking vengeance through the centuries because Connor killed his father in a blind fit of rage. That would have been very much in keeping with the themes of Highlander: The Series, where even good guys do unforgivably bad things sometimes. Then there’s the simpler story of a big badass evil immortal who disobeys the rules of the Game and requires Connor and Duncan to team up in order to defeat him. That’s the story the trailer of lies promised us, to the point where they resorted to blatant false advertising by filming extra scenes for the trailer alone because they knew even the most creative editing couldn’t hide how shitty this film was.
In the end, there were three good story ideas that all got mashed together and ruined. We get Connor retreating to an immortal sanctuary, but that whole storyline gets glossed over in a matter of minutes and then rendered pointless. We get Jacob Kell hunting down Connor for the death of his father, but the story also makes Kell an irredeemably evil bastard whose father had a hand in the unjust murder of Connor’s mother. The end result is that the film tells us we’re supposed to see Kell as a good guy gone bad, and that Connor is supposed to feel bad about his actions, but there’s nothing to support that notion. Kell is a son of a bitch from the start, and Connor winds up cutting down a man who had his mother burned alive. There’s no sympathy there – the bastard deserved to die, and Kell is an equally unlikable jerk. That last point is only accentuated by Bruce Payne, fresh from playing the blue-lipped villain from the equally awful Dungeons & Dragons movie, going so far over the top in his acting that he not only chews the scenery but devours its soul, regurgitates it, and feeds it to his young.
Ultimately, the film was released on September 1, 2000, and was at least partially intended as a way of bridging the gap between the TV series and the movies. However, I highly suspect that the folks working on the final version of this movie didn’t do any sort of research, because in trying to explain the various continuity problems between the show and the movie, Endgame contradicts both.
Okay, so I’ve explained in broad strokes why Highlander: Endgame was doomed from the start and why the folks in marketing are lying liars who lie. That’s just part one of my insane rantings. Next I’ll be going into the actual film itself and unlocking the pain that is held within. You have been warned.