IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
R | 1h 56min | Action, Adventure | 07 Mar 1986 (USA) | Movie
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 69% Fresh (Critics), 79% Fresh (Audience)
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Writers: Gregory Widen, Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery
Movie Tagline: “There can be only one.”
IMDb summary: An immortal Scottish swordsman must confront the last of his immortal opponent, a murderously brutal barbarian who lusts for the fabled “Prize”.
Checking our Letterboxd account revealed that this film wasn’t logged, which is a little concerning considering we’ve watched this film at least five times or more. So this will be the first “official” review for a film that helped to shape the action movie genre in the 80s.
Even today, Highlander still ranks highly on almost every review platform apart from Metacritic. To see a film rate highly with both critics and audiences is a sure sign that the film has something worth reviewing and spending time watching.
What is it about Highlander that continues to engage and entertain fans 34 years after its release? I could say the same thing of films like Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope. What is it about these films that continue to draw people in and make lifelong fans of its audience?
It’s a combination of things that produce a superior end-product; a film that resonates with its audience on many levels. It’s not just entertaining, it’s revolutionary. If you haven’t seen Highlander yet, you might want to tune out because this is where our spoilers begin.
The story behind the film is told by several people and not just the protagonist who in this case is the Highlander. Christopher Lambert portrays the Highlander, a man who cannot die. He is a man who has lived many lives through the ages being born in 1536 as Connor MacLeod from Glenfinnan. He is a man who has a very rare gift, which is that he cannot die unless beheaded. At first, Connor does not understand that he is special and is treated with cruelty and malice by his kinsman when he finally succumbs to a fatal wound in battle and survives.
At this point in the film, MacLeod is joined by Sean Connery’s charismatic character, Ramirez, who advises Connor that he must help to prepare him for the gathering. Ramirez reveals that Connor is one of a select group of men who are immortal and must battle for the final “prize” at a meeting called The Gathering. The only hitch is that every other Immortal must compete for this prize, including the deadly Kurgan played by Clancy Brown.
So we have our protagonist, his side-kick and the “evil” Kurgan who is the antagonist of the film. This is where we think the story weakens just a little, but not through any fault of the actors, who portray their characters perfectly.
Kurgan is more than just a brutish killer, but you wouldn’t know it just looking at his character in the film. They portray him as the “evil” immortal that must be stopped at all costs, or else he will plunge the world into eternal darkness. Painting Kurgan as the bad guy does his character a disservice. While he is every bit the menacing “brute” on screen, he is also a skilled warrior with a singular focus. Unlike MacLeod, who has loved and has lived a relatively “normal” life through the ages. Do you think this would have given Connor an edge over Kurgan? It’s hard to see how that could be, but it is what it is.
However, to progress the film’s plot, a “bad” guy is needed so that the audience could root for the good guy and we get it. But Kurgan really is the “perfect warrior” and it has become a lot harder (over multiple rewatches) to see how Connor could have defeated him the way he did. This is one of the biggest let-downs in the film.
The action in the film is one of its most important features because you get to see some of Connor’s oldest enemies battle it out with him to become “the one”. The tagline for the film has been used so many times in popular culture, it’s one of the best things to come out of this franchise (we consider the film the only decent thing in this franchise). And in the end, “there can be only one”. Even though it’s not clear during the film whether that person will be Connor, we all know that this is a movie which must deliver the hero triumphant at the end.
The scenic beauty of the Highlands is entirely legitimate, with most of the outdoor action sequences being filmed in Scotland. This adds a level of authenticity to the film and its characters. The story writing is also top-notch with characters that could have been real and pulled directly from the history books. The inter-woven scenes of Connor’s history throughout time are one of the highlights of the film. I’d like to mention Charlize Theron’s recent action flick, The Old Guard. In comparison, The Old Guard tries very hard to emulate this story-telling technique of showing experiences from the principal character’s past lives but cannot deliver. Highlander does this seamlessly, giving the audience just enough of Connor’s history to believe in him as a character and as the hero of the film.
Still worthy of a full five stars from our perspective, feel free to prove us wrong in the comments.