Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Highlander.”
The Movie: “Highlander”
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) An immortal Scottish swordsman must confront the last of his immortal opponent, a murderously brutal barbarian who lusts for the fabled “Prize.”
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 69 percent
Froemming: From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries with our pop-culture witticisms, watching many questionable films, struggling to reach the time of the JOE-DOWN; when the two who remain in movie critic snarkism will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you, because nobody reads this blog… until now.
I’m excited this week. When the JOE-DOWN began, one of the first films we reviewed was a terrible sequel to a film I loved growing up.
That sequel was so bad I had to watch it twice to try and make sense of it, to which Brown sent me this sage wisdom: STOP WATCHING HIGHLANDER 2!
I thought it was time we finally did “Highlander” here in the JOE-DOWN, a movie my best friend in junior high showed me and the two of us became huge fans of the franchise. Well, we loved the first movie, thought the third movie was OK, enjoyed the hell out of the TV show and never spoke of “Highlander 2” for obvious reasons.
So yeah, my formative years were around “Twin Peaks,” “Highlander” and “Seinfeld,” so there you go Brown, some more insight into my weird, twisted personality.
Anyway, before we unsheath our word-swords and battle to win the mysterious Prize, Brown what are your first thoughts?
So while I was excited to watch “Highlander” when you picked it, my immediate thought was “Wait, didn’t we already review this movie?”
Turns out we didn’t. But it sure as (REDACTED) felt that way. I still feel like we reviewed it already. But I think it was more of us wishing “Highlander 2” was the original.
I didn’t see this movie until I was a young adult. I knew some of the references, with the immortality and the idea that “There can only be one.” But I think what finally convinced me to watch it was from my favorite gag from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” when Master Shake throws an action figure off a cliff thinking that’s how you become an immortal. You see, “The Highlander” was a documentary and the events happened in real time.
Nowadays, it’s all about the Queen soundtrack for me, just like the “Flash Gordon” soundtrack.
So while I disrupt prayer at a church with my vulgar behavior, kick us off, Froemming.
Froemming: We start with a confusing opening dialogue from Sean Connery that I pilfered for my lede to this. Then we go right to Madison Square Garden for some good old fashioned wrasslin’! As we see the crowd hooting and hollering, the wrestlers doing their thing, we also see a man in the shadows, leering at these muscle men while wearing a trench coat, which honestly is how I picture Brown at WWE events.
Brown: If I showed up to a wrestling show in a trench coat, I’d still be, like, the 200th most suspicious person there with all the grown men in cosplay and black t-shirts chanting vulgar things at the wrestlers.
But yeah, as the resident pro wrestling expert at the JOE-DOWN, I was giddy to see The Fabulous Freebirds in the ring. I will admit to being uncomfortable with how much body hair Michael “P.S.” Hayes had, though.
Now, our leering man (who we find out later certainly has enough money to not sit in the nosebleeds) starts having “Braveheart”-like flashbacks. So this man leaves MSG and goes into the parking lot. Honestly, a trench-coated man leering around an empty parking garage feels appropriate.
Froemming: Here he meets a man named Fasil, and they suddenly brandish swords and begin fighting.
Brown: Dude had a sword in his trench coat the whole time. Including at the wrestling match. The pre-9/11 world was a frightening place.
Froemming: Those wrestling crowds are vicious. Though, don’t know how good a sword would be in a sudden fight with (probably) armed hillbillies wired on beer and wrasslin’…
And because the internet can be an amazing thing, here is that fight, but instead of swords, they have light sabers from “Star Wars.”
The man in the trench coat lops the head off this man who looks like he owns an art gallery, and stands there acting like he is having a full-body orgasm. This is called “The Quickening” and for these immortals, this happens when they win a battle and gain the knowledge of the person they defeated.
Brown: I love the sword fights in this movie, but not for the reasons the filmmakers intended. In this one alone, the action only feels fast because of the sound effects. In reality, they’re moving as fast as Mac doing karate in “Always Sunny.”
And then Fasil does SO MANY unnecessary backflips. At one point, he becomes Pris from “Blade Runner” with the back handsprings.
Finally, in a battle that can only end in decapitation, both men are so GOD AWFUL at stealth. Screaming does not make a swing more powerful, guys.
So after Fasil gets his head lobbed off and our mystery murderer gains his wisdom, it creates quite the scene. Cars are blowing up, windows are breaking. It’s a complete mess to the point where I thought to myself if insurance companies would cover a Quickening or if they consider that an act of God.
In the aftermath, our man hides his sword in the parking garage and tries to make a getaway, only for the NYPD to apprehend him.
But as we find out through flashbacks, our dude has been alive since the 1500s. Which, as we’ll find out, it’s downright STUNNING he lasted that long.
Froemming: It is also telling that he doesn’t hide his sword very well and New York’s finest never finds it at a murder scene.
So we head back to the 1500s, where a man named Connor MacLeod and his clan are preparing for battle with another clan we never really get the name of. Nor do we know why they are fighting. Nor, I must add, do we care.
Also, in 1536 the clan MacLeod chants their name like the O’Doyles do in “Billy Madison.”
It is during this scene we meet our antagonist, The Kurgan, who is on the opposing side of this little war. Clancy Brown is a frightening man, and I don’t care that he voices Mr. Krabs in “SpongeBob,” he will always scare me a bit.
The Kurgan wants Connor for himself, because he knows this Frenchman playing a Scot is, in fact, another immortal. How? They sense one another, even before one turns into an immortal, which is pretty convenient.
So the battle begins and nobody is fighting Connor. I don’t blame them, the 7-foot man who looks like he both body builds and smokes crack at the same time is one I wouldn’t want to be on the bad side of.
And The Kurgan kills Connor pretty easily, since this Frenchman playing a Scot is a bum swordsman on the battlefield. This feels like immortality just gives the finger to Darwinism.
Brown: First, it seems like a terrible idea for a battle involving large broadswords to take place in a thunderstorm. Postpone this one, guys.
So the battle starts and Connor finally gets a battle with Kurgan. His line: “Fight me!” Then Kurgan just stabs him in the torso. This will be a continual point for me but how the (REDACTED) did MacLeod make it another 450 years?! Kurgan should have lobbed MacLeod’s head off but through the power of happenstance, MacLeod gets bailed out by his friends.
I never got why Kurgan, who is clearly in the vicinity of the highlander, doesn’t just hunt MacLeod down while he’s suffering from being impaled.
But no, doesn’t happen. MacLeod goes from being on the verge of death to healing completely from being a human kabob.
Froemming: Well, he did die. It was his first death that made him immortal and trapped at that age. And yes, the show did address this with a little kid immortal. So, this life can suck, but being trapped as a 13-year-old for thousands of years would probably be the worst.
Brown: Well, at least the show, that came out, what, 10 years after the movie, addressed one of my questions. My other one: What would happen if a non-immortal decapitates an immortal?
Another question since you brought up the 13-year-old: If you are stuck as a teenager, do you maintain your hormones from that age? Like, is this 13-year-old immortal popping inappropriate boners for hundreds of years?
Froemming, please advance this review before it gets even more weird.
Froemming: To answer: Yes, non-immortals can — and do — decapitate immortals and their quickening goes to waste (there was a fringe group that went about killing immortals on purpose to prevent the Prize from ever being won, I am now angry at you for making me expose my nerdiness like this). And two, from the show, yes the kid was stuck as a hormonal monster for generations. If memory serves, Duncan MacLeod killed the little brat. I could be wrong.
So we go back to the present of gritty 1980s New York, where Connor is arrested fleeing the garage where a man had his head chopped right off and the Joker shot a man on live television. I mean, nothing suspicious about a trenchcoated man fleeing a crime scene sweating bullets after a pro wrestling extravaganza.
So Connor is taken in for questioning, which is shocking to see a well-to-do white guy in Manhattan getting grilled for any crime. Though he does just up an punches a cop with nothing happening back to him, so that part is realistic I guess.
Brown: When he got arrested, was MacLeod read his Miranda rights? I don’t recall that, so he’s going to get off AND he’ll sue the department. Plus, I’m pretty sure the lead detective spilled coffee on top of the corpse in the parking garage and contaminated the scene.
Speaking of, we see a woman in forensics sniffing around the crime scene named Rachel that notices that a million-dollar sword is on the scene. So that brings her to MacLeod, who is going by the name Russell Nash. Nash wears a trenchcoat and white tennis shoes like a (REDACTED) dork and is an antiques dealer since, you know, he has hoarded stuff for the last 500 years. That’s very forward thinking as a business but hoarding is unhealthy, MacLeod.
Something that’s more unhealthy is decapitation, which is in play now that Kurgan heard about the parking garage scene via a news radio report. The movie then rocks my (REDACTED) socks off with more Queen.
Froemming: Honestly, this is one of my favorite soundtracks of all time.
So it is the time of the Gathering, where immortals are drawn mysteriously to a place, much like how cats are drawn to litter boxes. Unfortunately for NYC, they are drawn there. But, I get it. Nobody really noticed crime there in the 80s, so fighting to the death in dark alleys was pretty much a NY sort of thing.
Brown: Was it Giuliani or Bloomberg that cleaned up all the immortal-linked deaths in NYC?
Froemming: Well, if it was Giuliani, all the goodwill we had for him cleaning that up is now gone forever.
Let’s travel back to the 1500s, where Connor has a new life with Heather, after being run out of his old town by friends and family, which sounds like an epic Festivus if you ask me. While frolicking in the grass like a couple of idiots, they are approached by a Scotsman playing an Egyptian-Spainard named Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, further confusing accents of Europeans in my young head in the 1990s.
Brown: I would posit that the filmmakers have never left the tri-state area if they believe any of Lambert’s or Connery’s traits match their characters.
Froemming: Ramírez is there to train our highlander on the life of an immortal: Fighting others to the death, no children, no love, no happiness. Sounds like Ramírez, like John Goodman’s character in “Community,” is going through some stuff. Because I think some of the things he teaches Connor is just self-destructive.
Brown: Not to mention Ramírez and MacLeod finds a way to top “Rocky 3” in most awkward beach run scenes of all time.
Like any self-respecting ‘80s movie, we get a training montage where they are sword fighting and balancing on boats. Here’s the jist of the training montage and relationship between Ramírez and MacLeod.
Ramírez also tells MacLeod about Kurgan and how he’s the perfect warrior and if the Prize ends up in his hands, it’ll be terrible for the world.
Well, it’ll be terrible for them now. As Ramírez is wining and dining with MacLeod’s wife, Heather, Kurgan breaks into the castle (?) looking for MacLeod. He’s not there, but Ramírez will do. So while there’s an immortal sword fight, this is what Heather should be doing.
Froemming: I agree. Take it away, Iron Maiden!
Brown: And as Kurgan is leaping from the stairs to attack Ramírez, this is what I said to the screen at Heather.
And when Ramírez cuts Kurgan’s throat and impales him with a sword and the dude is STILL not incapacitated, this is what I said to Heather, again.
AND, when the walls of the castle are crumbling because of shoddy Scottish craftsmanship and Kurgan finally lobs his head off, this is what I was screaming at Heather.
… (Sigh) She didn’t listen. Kurgan destroys her home and ends up raping Heather. “Highlander”: A feel-good story.
Froemming: Didn’t expect you to do the old Jesse Ventura-style take on the Scots there.
Brown: Look, if my home can’t handle a simple immortal sword fight, it’s a problem.
Froemming: A battle in your home would look like this:
Anywho, Kurgan kills old Ramirez and we never see this character in the franchise again. Ever. Let’s just move along now.
Brown: I do seem to remember a Shakespeare performance getting ruined by this guy.
Froemming: I said let’s just move along now.
Heather grows old as Connor stays the same ambiguous age of 20s-30s, though given the time in history he is probably 12. When she kicks the bucket, Connor takes Ramirez’s terrible advice and shuts himself off for 400+ years.
Back in gritty New York, Kurgan is setting up in a roach-infested hotel run by a man who also operates as a pimp, so he has two jobs in Reagan’s America. USA! USA!
And we see just how breathtakingly unpractical Kurgan’s broadsword is. The blade is in two pieces? That seems like a pointless hazard waiting to happen in a fight. For an amazing, brutual warrior, his weapon of choice is pretty stupid, because of that and how heavy it is and how pointless it would be against Conner’s more practical, lightweight kitana.
Now, for the kinda pointless love story: Brenda happens to be in the parking garage as Connor retrieves his not-very-well hidden sword that was used in a homicide, and he leers at her from the shadows in his trench coat.
I am beginning to see a troubling pattern here with old Connor MacLeod.
Brown: Yeah, it’s not a great look for a guy that seems to be a standup person. I mean, he saved an orphaned girl from the Nazis and raised her as his own so she could be his… personal assistant at his antiques business. Yeah, that’s not a great look, either.
Brenda is a weapons expert, and she’s fascinated by MacLeod’s sword, which is Ramírez’s weapon that he got after marrying a Japanese princess in the past? OK, sure, let’s throw more countries that are NOWHERE NEAR EACH OTHER into that origin story.
Eventually, MacLeod reveals that he’s an immortal to Brenda by having her stab him in the stomach.
And then they start making out, which is probably a terrible thing to do after you JUST GOT STABBED.
And then they start humping in what is more graphic than you’d expect. That is also a terrible thing to do after you JUST GOT STABBED.
Remembering Ramírez’s words, MacLeod tries to break things off while at the zoo. But while there, we see Kurgan off in the distance in a pretty good work of cinematography. He can now use Brenda as leverage over the highlander.
I jumped ahead here for time’s sake, but we should mention the awesome church scene before talking about the climax. I’ll leave that to you, Froemming.
Froemming: You mean while Connor is living a life devoid of love and joy, Kurgan is out there living life to its fullest? Being happy while putting out candles at a church? Taking in the joys of talking loudly of raping Connor’s wife and killing his best friend while worshipers listen on? Giving a good old fashioned ribbing at some nuns by simulating oral sex? Licking the hands of a priest because it makes Kurgan feel good? Quoting famous Canadian Neil Young?
I don’t know, I think Kurgan understands living more than our protagonist, Brown.
Brown: In a sick, twisted way, you’re not wrong.
Froemming: So while high on living life to the fullest, Kurgan finds Brenda at her home, smashes her door, kidnaps her and takes her on a joyride through NYC while gleefully running people over and running people off bridges, but to be fair to the Kurgan here…
So Kurgan takes Brenda to Silvercup Studios in Queens, where the final battle for the Prize will go down (well, if we ignore the other movies and TV show), where Queen shot the video for “Princes of the Universe,” a place that has what looks like an airplane hangar for some reason? I dunno, but this is where Kurgan wants to end this madness of immortality.
Brown: Yeah, after crashing through a glass roof, the showdown of immortals culminates in MacLeod finally cutting the Kurgan’s head off his neck and feasting on the goo within.
… Or just obtaining his powers and earning the Prize.
Either way, hearing “There can be only one” for the final time is pretty (REDACTED) awesome.
Froemming: They say that line in this movie almost as much as the characters in “Game of Thrones” say “Winter is coming.” We get it.
Brown: “Game of Thrones,” that’s the one with the hobbit and the ring, right?
Anyways, MacLeod can now read people’s thoughts, he can birth children (a gift or curse, depending on your lifestyle) and now, MacLeod can die.
So by reading everyone’s thoughts, MacLeod’s a Scanner now?
But for now, MacLeod will enjoy life in the Scottish highlands, banging his girlfriend in probably the same meadow he banged his first wife.
Let’s gather in recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yup. It’s a movie that is a lot of fun.
Brown: Hell yes. This movie is so much fun. Dumb fun, but fun nonetheless.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:
February is *checks notes* Oh no… Adam Sandler Month!