Now that I’ve gone over all the behind the scenes crap that Highlander: Endgame went through, it’s time to dig into the movie itself. But first, I’m going to mention something positive: I like the opening. It follows along with the first Highlander movie in providing just text narrated by one of the main characters – in this case, Christopher Lambert as Connor.
In the days before memory, there were the immortals. We were with you then, and we are with you now. We are driven by the endless fight to survive in a game which knows no limit of time or place. We are the seeds of legend, but our true origins are unknown. We simply are.
That’s some pretty good stuff, focusing on the immortals as beings of magic and legend who have followed humanity through the ages. The last bit is admittedly a little out of place in this movie, which never touches on the origins of immortals. It would probably fit better in a film that tried to explore the source of immortality
No! Go away! You don’t exist yet!
The opening, as well as several other minor points in the film, demonstrate that someone wanted to make a good movie here. The studio was full of lying interfering assholes, but at least some of the folks on the creative side here wanted to make a good Highlander film. They just failed. They failed badly.
We open up in New York, “10 years ago.” 10 years ago. This film came out in 2000. That means this opening takes place in 1990. That means that it occurred two years prior to the start of the TV series. That means, as we will soon see, that a key part of the TV series never fucking happened. See, Connor called Duncan to New York, then goes and blows him off. Why? We never find out. Connor then goes to his antique shop, which he gave to Rachel Ellenstein at the end of Highlander. What the hell is going on? Are we following the movie continuity or not? It was pretty damned clear at the end of the first movie that Connor had abandoned his Russell Nash identity because Russel Nash was wanted for multiple counts of murder. He left everything to Rachel, said his goodbyes, and left in a lovely and touching scene. What is he doing back in New York? What the fuck? If you’re trying to fix continuity issues, why are you introducing major holes in continuity in the first five minutes?
And then to compound my confusion, we get to see lovely Rachel, a wonderful character who filled a nice role in Highlander and hasn’t been seen since. Then the shop explodes and kills her. What the hell movie??? I mean, I know Highlander: The Series had a nasty habit of killing characters off in stupid anticlimactic ways, but why do we need to bring Rachel back only to kill her? And why is Connor even going to see her, since he left with Brenda Wyatt for Scotland back at the end of the first movie? For that matter, how are you even going to connect the movie and the series when the whole point of the ending of the movie was that Connor was going to grow old and die with Brenda? Had Connor still been immortal as in the TV show, he wouldn’t have gotten close to Brenda. Connor being in the series’ continuity worked in the pilot episode, where the details of the first movie were never discussed. All we knew was that Connor existed, he was trained by Ramirez, and he had killed the Kurgan. Aside from that, the series only used the movie as backstory in very broad strokes. Now this film is trying to connect two completely separate continuities that do not work together. It’s blown my mind already, but not in a good way.
Anyway, because Connor can’t stand the loss of Rachel (even though he already parted ways with her five years earlier), he goes to a special sanctuary for immortals that puts him in a drug-induced coma for the next decade so he no longer has to deal with the pain of his loved ones dying. Ten years. As in, Connor went there in 1990 and doesn’t come out until 2000. As in, the pilot episode of the series, which focused heavily on the interactions between Duncan and Connor and specifically took place in 1992, now no longer happened. So this movie, in a ham-fisted attempt to connect the original film and the TV series, has just invalidated both of them.
Connor heading to the sanctuary raises a bunch of questions. Why does Connor, a guy who has seen his share of death over the years, go over the bend at the loss of Rachel? How does he know the sanctuary exists? Duncan doesn’t know about it until Methos tells him later. Moreover, the place turns out to be run by Watchers. The Watchers are a secret society that immortals generally don’t know about. How do they get people to this sanctuary? Do they put out flyers in some immortal newsletter or something?
This establishing scene didn’t occur in the theatrical release and was instead relegated to backstory. For most of this discussion, I’m going with the DVD release that added in extra footage, because like all Highlander films, the theatrical release had major chunks cut out of it that helped make the movie make even less sense.
Back to the story, though, this turns out to be the last time Duncan saw Connor. I guess that whole thing with Connor showing up to fight Slan Quince, the event that got Duncan back into the Game and introduced Richie Ryan, was all just a dream. But let’s think about this for a moment. Duncan flies to New York from across the country, talks to Connor briefly, says he’ll meet Connor later, and then Connor doesn’t show. Meanwhile, Connor’s shop just exploded. And Duncan doesn’t think to check this out? What the hell, man? I mean, I know you’ve got Tessa waiting for you, but at the same time I’m not even sure she really existed thanks to this film’s fucked-uppedness.
With Connor in his drug-induced coma, we also get the official retcon of Highlander II and Highlander III: they were just hallucinations Connor had while in the sanctuary.
So Connor is all busted up about the death of Rachel, but what about Brenda Wyatt, the female lead from the original movie who taught Connor to love again and who played a key role in him winning against the Kurgan? She’s dead. Again. Run over with a car by Kell. We don’t even get a mention of this until about halfway through the film. Poor Brenda. She was the best female lead not named Amanda or Tessa in this franchise, and she has been killed off three times in sequels, all off-screen or in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenes.
While Connor is in his coma, he has a flashback to his early days in the Highlands, before he met Ramirez and learned about his immortality. This is where the theatrical release opened, leaving audiences to wonder what the fuck was going on. Connor hears that his mother is going to be burned for raising a hellspawn. I’m left wondering how any of Connor’s clansmen know where Connor is – they exiled him, and I had always assumed that Connor and Heather lived far away from his old clan, since they wanted to kill him and all in the first film. What medieval clan of superstitious warriors knows the location of a hellspawn but is content with letting him live – in a fucking castle, no less? But whatever. Connor goes back to his village and kills a bunch of folks who burned his mother at the stake, including Jacob Kell (not a Scottish name, by the by), a pre-immortal, and his father, a priest who helped torch Connor’s mother. This is what makes Jacob Kell into a villain, and we are supposed to accept that Connor somehow feels bad about this. According to this movie, Connor is somehow torn up by the fact that he killed a bunch of people who burned his mother alive.
This early scene with Connor and Heather also emphasizes one sad fact about the Highlander franchise: the characters are immortal, but the actors are not. At the point this movie was made, it had been almost fifteen years since the first film, and the actors looked it. In a flashback that is supposed to be in her youth, Heather looks middle-aged. Connor, who is supposed to be eternally young, looks like an old man. This fact could have been somewhat covered up with some good makeup and directing as well as the elimination of a couple mitigating factors. First, this film was shot in Eastern Europe in the winter, where the dry weather really does a number on people’s skin. Second, one of the producers liked the way Christopher Lambert looked with his hair slicked back at the end of the first movie and decided he wanted to have that look in the whole film. However, they didn’t use enough hair gel or something, because instead of Lambert’s hair being slicked back, it’s made so he looks like a large flightless bird had just mated with Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Due to these screw-ups, Christopher Lambert looks old in this movie. He was in his early 40s during filming, but he looks like he’s in his late 50s due to the way the movie was shot. Even in flashbacks where he has the benefits of wigs, he was given some of the ugliest wigs even seen on film, making him look older than he really was.
Moving on, we get to what really got fans’ knickers in a twist. See, this immortal sanctuary is specifically mentioned as holy ground. As in that one place where no immortal can ever fight. As in the place where the one time in recorded history where an immortal killed another immortal on holy ground, the entire city of Pompeii got destroyed. Now Kell leads a band of evil immortals to the sanctuary, kills all the monks, and then decapitates the dozen or so helpless immortals there. The result? Nothing. Nothing happens. Turns out that the whole holy ground thing is all a myth and that immortals just like to handicap themselves that way just because.
Fuck you, movie! Here’s a quick guideline: if the fucking Kurgan won’t do something, there’s probably a reason behind it other than just honor. And no, Kell isn’t more evil than the Kurgan. Overacting doesn’t a good villain make. Every time one of these movies comes out, some idiot decides to ape the Kurgan instead of trying to develop a unique bad guy of their own and it always fails. Do not try to top Clancy Brown as the Kurgan. It does not work.
The fact that Kell cut down a bunch of immortals on holy ground with no consequences resulting in a massive fan backlash. In the DVD release, the movie was edited to remove all references as the place as holy ground. But it’s still obviously holy ground. The immortals are in a church. They are protected by monks. And let’s not forget that the only place this immortal sanctuary would make sense is if it was on holy ground. Why else would immortals willingly incapacitate themselves? Putting yourself in a drug-induced coma anywhere but on holy ground is a death writ for an immortal.
And finally, just to add insult to injury, there are a couple more things to ponder. First, the whole immortal sanctuary thing is pointless. It only existed as a way of establishing that Kell was a bad guy and willing to break the rules – rules that, by the continuity of the series and the movies, are much more than mere tradition and should have serious consequences. But what about Connor, you ask? Isn’t he dead now? No. Kell lets him go free because Kell is a fucking moron, as we will explore later. And the search for Connor, which was at one point so central a plot that it was the title of the goddamned movie, takes about ten to fifteen minutes until Duncan is reunited with him. Second, we find out that the sanctuary is owned by the Watchers. The guys from the series whose organizational motto is, “Observe and record, but never interfere.” Yes, I will grant that there were guys who violated that rule in the series, but not on this level. James Horton and his buddies went about killing immortals on the down-low. This is a large church presumably owned by the Watcher organization and run by several dozen Watchers. There is no fucking way this would go unnoticed – they require a large plot of land, medical equipment, and an endless supply of powerful coma-inducing drugs. We’re talking about an organization that takes its vow of noninterference so seriously that they sentenced Joe Dawson to death for interfering in immortal affairs. In the name of all that is holy, how many more ways is this movie going to stomp on established story in a pathetic attempt to unify the fucked up Highlander continuity?
Meanwhile, Duncan senses something strange because…um, Connor and Duncan are apparently psychically linked now? He goes to Methos, and everyone cheers! Hold your applause, though – Methos is just here for a cameo. He’s got two pointless scenes in this movie and then he’s gone! Methos tells Duncan about the immortal sanctuary where Connor was and also reveals that the immortals there are all dead now. He also casually mentions that he knew Connor, which is weird. Can we get some explanation as to when Methos met Connor? Please?
After some pointless flashbacks where we see Duncan meet a new
sex object love interest and where Connor shows Duncan one of the most insanely stupid fencing maneuvers of all time that unfortunately becomes a plot point in this film, Duncan heads to Connor’s old shop. You’d think that in New York City a burned out building in a classy downtown area would have been cleaned up and sold off within ten years, but that’s apparently not true. Duncan goes up onto the second floor and senses an immortal. But it’s not Connor – it’s Kate, the chick from the flashback. And she calls herself Faith now, for some reason that will never get explained. Oh, she’s a whole other can of worms that I’ll get to in a bit. But first, we get a fight scene! Yay! Sure, there’s this stupid bit where Kell’s gang of bad immortals, of which Kate is a member, runs motorcycles in through the windows of the second floor of Connor’s old shop, but whatever. It’s a sword fight! The immortals all gang up on Duncan, thus breaking another rule – the rule of one-on-one combat. Again, this is a rule that not even the most evil immortals have violated before. The freaking Four Horsemen didn’t break this rule, and they’re the most evil beings the series has to offer. As with the holy ground violation, the repercussions of breaking this rule also never get discussed. According to this movie, immortals have a bunch of stupid rules that even the bad guys follow just because.
The fight scene itself, as with all the fight scenes in this movie, is actually pretty awesome. That’s because Donnie Yen, one of the top guys in Hong Kong action theatre, provided the fight choreography. Yen also plays the immortal Jing Ke, and is criminally underused throughout the film. Really, he should have been the big bad. He’s got screen presence, acting ability, and can actually fight convincingly. But here his character only gets a couple of lines. It’s doubly frustrating if you know your history and realize that his character is based on the real-life Jing Ke, a Chinese warrior who is best known for his failed assassination of China’s first emperor in the 3rd century BC. So you’ve got this ancient immortal, a badass warrior with a code of honor, who has a lot of history behind him, and what do you do with him? You relegate him to a mook who later gets killed without putting up a fight. I’ve said it before, but fuck you, movie.
Kell shows up and the fight ends when one of his immortal gang shoots Duncan, knocking him out the second story window and getting him impaled on some rebar. Why don’t you guys just go after him in your apparently flying motorcycles? It doesn’t matter because Duncan has apparently been followed by some ridiculously prepared Watchers who knew he was going to get impaled by rebar and who cut him down, load him into a van, and then put him into a coma in a new immortal sanctuary. Apparently a group of Watchers are so nervous about the almighty Jason Kell that they’re trying to put immortals into protective comas to prevent Kell from ever winning the Prize. Here’s an idea, guys: shoot Kell and cut his head off. It worked wonders for James Horton. How many badass immortals did he kill off before he got taken down? Anyway, I don’t see the big worry about Kell, because he’s just another cheesy asshole villain, complete with clichés like murdering his underlings for little to no reason. Why do these guys work for him again?
While Duncan is in a coma, we get a flashback! And it’s not just a flashback, but the flashback to the first time he met Connor! And it’s…ten seconds long. What the hell? That’s a potentially huge fan-pleasing scene, you shit of a film! Don’t gloss over that just so you can give more screen time to a Watcher shoving a syringe up Duncan’s nose! Joe and Methos free Duncan, but again, don’t get attached to them. After this, Methos is out of the movie, and Joe has only one more pointless scene. Their only real purpose is to tell us that Kell is really badass, because the fucking movie certainly isn’t going to show us that! See, Kell has killed 661 immortals, while Connor has only killed 262 immortals and Duncan has only killed 174. That makes Kell the biggest bad guy ever because…wait, what?
How many fucking immortals are there? I know the TV show had a population explosion among the immortals, but apparently there are thousands of them now? How is this kept under wraps? Hundreds I can see – a thousand through the ages, okay. But between three immortals, we have a total of 1,097 immortal kills? And how many did Methos kill when he was a part of the Four Horsemen? What about Jing Ke and the rest of Kell’s gang? Amanda? Richie? Since the Gathering has begun, why has no one on the whole planet noticed the sudden spike in headless corpses? And that’s not even getting into the stupidity of the idea that X number of quickenings = most powerful immortal ever. Duncan has fought dozens of immortals in the series, including guys who were around for thousands of years killing other immortals. This isn’t fucking Dragonball Z. Kell’s power level is not over 9,000 – the number of heads he’s taken doesn’t make him all-powerful. Hell, if just decapitations is what matters, how did Kell get to this point in the first place. He’s 500 years old – he must have taken the head of someone who had many more kills than him at some point. How did Richie manage to win any fights at all in the series, since he was a total newbie against immortals who had centuries of head-chopping experience? Sword fights are not math. This is worse than that stupid douchebag immortal in The Raven whose schtick was calculating whose head he had to take and in what order. How did that work out for him? Oh yeah: he fucking died. Damn it, Joe! You’re a Watcher! You watched Duncan defeat Grayson, who was a much better and more experienced fighter. Damn it, Methos! You’re 5,000 years old! You should know better! GAHHHHH!!!
I really don’t get how the Watchers’ confirmed kills database works. Do they weight these things? I mean, Connor killed the Kurgan, who was repeatedly said (and shown) to be the most powerful immortal. The dude could punch through stone walls. Does the Kurgan only equal one kill? The implication from the database is that Connor killing the Kurgan is equal to someone killing a total newbie immortal. That can’t be right, can it?
And so Duncan tells Methos and Joe to go shove it, and they’re just happy to get out of this movie. He goes to the site of the immortal sanctuary, where he finds that Kell let Connor go rather than kill him because Kell wants to torture Connor. And then Kate and Kell show up, and Bruce Payne delivers an ungodly over-the-top performance that has to be seen to be believed:
(Note: that is a fan edit that cuts in some deleted scenes, but all the worst bits were in the final release, I assure you.)
The original cut of this had Connor and Kell throw down on holy ground. When Duncan points out that they’re violating that most sacred rule, Connor says something along the lines of, “Damn the rules!” Even with that cut out, the two proceed to fight in the graveyard, which is obviously holy ground. Even if we accept that they step across the “holy” boundary of the graveyard, Connor draws his sword and nearly chops Kell’s head off in the scene above right among the graves, and that’s just stupid. Connor didn’t draw his sword against the Kurgan on holy ground after the Kurgan loudly gloated about raping Connor’s wife. Even with that in mind, I can’t get through this scene without shouting to Connor, “Do it! Take his head now just to shut this man up!”
To be fair to Bruce Payne, though, I don’t think there was much he could do with this role. I checked the script – all of these lines, including the uber-creepy, “What’s the matter? Don’t you want to be inside me?” line were all in the script. What’s an actor supposed to do with that? You can either play it straight and sound like a tool or you can go the route that Raul Julia went in the Street Fighter movie and give a performance that includes a large order of ham with a side of cheese. I’m not happy with Payne’s performance, but this guy had to go through this movie and Dungeons & Dragons in the same year. If he hadn’t been given the chance to go stupidly over the top with his performances, his head might have exploded.
(Incidentally, the script had a scene where Kell drives Kate on a deadly chaotic car ride through the city, ripping off the Kurgan’s famous car scene from the first movie. Again. The scene never made it to film, but if it had it would have been the fourth time in four movies that the same scene got tossed in. In this case, I guess the director had more sense than the screenwriter.)
It turns out that Kell’s master plan is to kill everyone around Connor and make them suffer. Now, no offense, Mr. Kell, but you suck at your job. I mean, who have you really killed? Brenda? I’ll give you that, even though I’m pretty sure that’s a detail that got cut from the final version. But who else? Rachel? Connor met her when she was a little girl. She had fifty years of happiness with Connor. Yeah, it’s tragic how she died, but that’s five decades. That’s practically an entire mortal lifetime. What about Heather? Connor was happily married to her until she died of old age. Bang up job of making him suffer there, Kell. What about Ramirez? Oh, he died, but the Kurgan was the guy who did the job. Hell, what about Duncan? Who in the last 400 years has meant more to Connor than his clansman Duncan? Why haven’t you killed Duncan? WHY???
My wife Sarah has just informed me that I’ve been narrating this whole rant out loud. I’ll be back, but first I need to apologize to her and take my meds. The real pain hasn’t even begun yet.