WTF Happened to Highlander II: The Quickening?

We look back at one of the most disastrous sequels of all time, Highlander 2: The Quickening.

When the original Highlanderbecame a sleeper hit on home video it was only a matter of time before a sequel was made. Even though Connor had won the Gathering and had once again become mortal surely there was a way to get him to pick up the sword once again. Christopher Lambert was game to reprise the character again so why not move forward with another film?

Well if you’ve seen Highlander II (which we did a memorable episode of Awfully Good on) then you know why they should have thought better about going back to the Highlander well. In an experience that many would describe as frustrating maddening and downright awful Highlander II would set out to fundamentally destroy the first film. The director tried to have his name taken off of it. The lead of the film wanted to drop out. Let’s find out exactly WTF Happened To This Film.

If you’re a movie distributor then you always hope that the movie you’re releasing makes a lot of money. That’s how it usually works. When the first Highlander hit theater screens it bombed big time. Luckily once it hit home video they began to see the money come flowing in. Enough that they decided to push forward with a sequel to capitalize on the pop culture reverence that a film about immortals cutting each other’s heads off to gain their power can bring.

Everyone quickly realized they painted themselves into a corner at the end of the first film. Connor had won The Gathering acquired all knowledge in the universe and was once again mortal so he could finish out his life with the woman he loved. Now how would they get Connor back to being an immortal and in danger of being killed? Christopher Lambert said they tried to think of any scenario that they could to make it work.

What was ultimately decided was to make the immortals actually aliens from the planet Zeist. The immortals would come to Earth and gain immortality. A battle between them would decide the winner that could return home or live out their lives on Earth. They were stretching past the lore that had been established in the original film and taking a big risk of alienating hardcore fans.

In the film we learn that Connor and Ramirez are actually aliens from the planet Zeist who have been exiled by the tyrant ruler Katana. In the future we find out that the ozone layer of the Earth has been depleted. Connor (now with his all-knowing knowledge presumably) helps build a shield to go around the planet to protect those left from the sun’s deadly rays. The side effect is that the world is now cast in total darkness. One of the victims of the unguarded radiation from the sun was his wife Brenda who he ended up with at the end of the last film.

Now an old man MacLeod is approached by Louise Marcus who leads an anti-shield group. She presents him with info that they believe the ozone layer has regenerated in the 25 years since the shield went up. The Shield Company doesn’t want this info getting out as it will destroy their revenue. Connor says he’s too old and doesn’t believe in terroristic tactics.

At the same time Katana sends more warriors to Earth to finally kill MacLeod. When they arrive he is able to dispatch them quickly. The Quickening once again makes Connor immortal and reverts him to his younger age. He calls for Ramirez despite his death in the last film. This brings him back to Earth. They team up to bring down the shield around the planet and fight off Katana who has arrived to kill them himself.

highlander 2 the quickening

Phew. There is a lot going on in this film and not a lot of it makes a whole lot of sense. One of the biggest additions to the script was the return of Ramirez to the sequel. His character was never intended to return but the financing company insisted he be brought back. Because of this Sean Connery was offered $3.5 Million to return for only nine days of work. But the company wanted him to be included in more of the film and not just a glorified cameo.

During his nine days on set they would end up filming a lot of different scenes so he would seem to be in more of the movie than he actually was. They hired his usual stunt double to stand in for him when they could and pushed his on-screen time to about twenty minutes. With this Connery was in his first ever sequel outside of the James Bond films.

When it came time to cast their villain they turned to everyone’s favorite film psychopath Michael Ironside. He took the role and later admitted that he knew it was going to be a bad movie but did it anyway to just have fun. He said: “Yeah listen I hated that script. We all did. Me Sean Chris we all were in it for the money on this one. I mean it read as if it had been written by a thirteen-year-old boy. But I’d never played a barbarian swordsman before and this was my first big evil mastermind-type. I figured if I was going to do this stupid movie I might as well have fun and go as far over the top as I possibly could. All that eye-rolling and foaming at the mouth was me deciding that if I was going to be in a piece of shit like that movie I was going to be the most memorable fucking thing in it and I think I succeeded.”

Female lead Virginia Madsen didn’t seem to dissuade this idea as she revealed she only took the part for a free trip to Argentina and to work with Sean Connery.

One person who didn’t come back was Clancy Brown. He was offered a cameo in the film and turned them down. Considering he claims to this day that he has never been paid for his role in the original Highlander this is not a surprise.

With their cast the production began to look around for locations. Argentina was vying for more film shoots in their country. After some location scouting the producers thought it would be a great place to work in. With the exchange rate between them and the United States they would be able to shave about $5 million off their production costs. The area offered them a lot of variety for locales. They would be able to build a mile-long city street section to act as their backdrop for numerous scenes and have access to some great-looking interiors such as the opera house from the beginning of the film.

With everything in place it was time to head down to Argentina and make a movie. This is when all their problems would start. One of the problems they encountered was numerous injuries the cast would wrack up. Lambert would decide to forgo using a fake sword and instead suggest they use real ones for the fight scenes. Between Lambert and Ironside a list of fight injuries would begin to add up.

highlander 2 Michael ironside

Ironside would walk away with a chipped tooth and barely missed getting his thumb severed. Lambert cut his finger down to the bone on his first scene and had to get 12 stitches. He hurried back and insisted they continue working so that they didn’t miss any time.

The scariest injury happened to Michael Ironside who had his jaw dislocated during the duel at the dome. A producer on set described the injury saying Ironside’s jaw just slid to the side. He then told Lambert to punch it back into place which he did. Wow. Ironside equated all the injuries to using twenty-pound swords. It made the choreography hard to follow. Doing precision movements and deflections was pretty much impossible.

One scene in which Ironside miraculously didn’t get injured is during the scene where Katana crashes into the subway car. The stuntman who had been hired for the job kept showing up to work high on cocaine. He was let go and Ironside just said he would do the stunt to make it easier. Luckily it went smoothly.

As filming continued something the production hadn’t counted on was that Argentina would end up going into an economic collapse. Just as the film began shooting the price of just about everything skyrocketed. Banks would close causing the production to worry about getting local crew members paid. Some shops would refuse to sell some items as they knew the next day the price could go up even more making them more money.

As the cost of the film inexplicably rose the bonding company (pretty much insurance companies for making films) began to get nervous. If the film didn’t get finished before it ran out of money it would have to cough up a significant amount of money to the investors.

Suddenly they began to take over more and more of the production to make sure that a usable film was produced. This caused a lot of tension between the producers and the director. The bonding company was now rewriting parts of the film to be more economical.

Lambert was understandably upset and wanted to back out of the production. Because of his contract he was unable to and had to stick with the film. The film was pushed forward and finally wrapped filming. They had hoped their troubles were over but because of the bonding company stepping in the director Russell Mulcahy (Mull-Kay-He) was pushed out of the editing room. He had no input on how the film would ultimately be presented.

What they ended up with was a disjointed story that had very little resemblance to the original film. The lore of the immortals was now replaced with a story of aliens coming to Earth and fighting while trying to keep a giant shield over the planet because it made a corporation lots of money. It was a mess.

Mulcahy wanted to have his name taken off the film since it didn’t resemble what the original movie was supposed to be. The producers fought back as he had a clause in his contract stating that he would not attack the movie before it was released. They felt that by doing this he would be attacking the quality of the film. He left his name on it but only lasted 15 minutes into the film before he left the premier.

The film would come out and leave fans of the original deeply confused. It didn’t even seem to be in the same cinematic universe as the first film and everyone was scratching their heads.

Word of mouth quickly spread and the movie bombed at the box office.

Much like its predecessor it would find an audience on home video. This came just as a new HighlanderTV series was about the premiere in syndication. Rather than follow anything from the doomed second film it would go back to the original lore of the franchise and Lambert would even make an appearance in the first episode to hand off the lead role to Adrian Paul’s Duncan MacLeod. A third film would end up going forward and everything from the second film was completely ignored.

Everyone thought the second film would go forever as the black sheep entry in the series. The British distribution company would offer Mulcahy a chance to re-edit the film closer to what he originally had wanted. With this he would have a chance to fix the disastrous mistakes that had been made with the film. He would go in and strip out every reference to the planet Zeist and the fact that they were aliens.

With some reworking of the dialogue and some new line recordings it changes MacLeod and Ramirez to originally living in the distant past. They are banished to the future by Katana and will be reborn in their exiled time periods. The immortal who then wins the prize will be able to return to the past or stay in the present and grow old. Katana sends his minions to the future to kill MacLeod. This was labeled the “Renegade Cut” and was released on home video. Fans seemed to enjoy this new version of the story more than the original.

While it didn’t fix all the problems with the film it did put the story more in line with the original film and the rest of the series. It would get another Special Edition a few years later as the effects in the film were updated. Originally as the film was edited there was a noticeable dip in the quality of the effects and post-production backgrounds. Now they would all be fixed to present a unified look and feel.

This entry would continue to be ignored in just about every aspect moving forward. During the fourth film we would see Connor sacrifice himself to ensure that Duncan MacLeod would be able to continue on. It put the final nail in the coffin of the second entry ever fully becoming part of the Highlander timeline. While fans can debate back and forth on the merits of the film we can all agree it was a decided sharp turn from the original film and doesn’t fit within the legacy of the rest of the series. If anything it teaches us to be careful basing our decisions on the Argentina economy and that death is never forever.

About the Author

Bryan Wolford is a feature writer for JoBlo, and also writes scripts for both JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals, including a multi-part retrospective on the Highlander franchise. When not writing for the site, he’s an avid podcaster.