Highlander: Endgame

(This review includes spoilers.)

Connor: "In the end, there can be only one. And that has to be you."

Endgame was a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reboot the Highlander movie franchise and replace Connor MacLeod with Duncan. How I wish it had worked.

This movie is so frustrating. I was so thrilled with the beginning, when they kept doing things I really loved, things that worked so well. And just when I was thinking, wow, this is going to be good, they started bringing in all these bizarre story elements that I found jarring. It was like they didn't define exactly what story they were telling, so they threw in lots of things they hoped would work. And it didn't. In the end, the good stuff just couldn't overcome the bad stuff.

So what did work?

They did a great job of blending the movie Connor with the series Duncan. The flashbacks to the two of them together in the past and the present were just wonderful, the best part of the movie. They reprised Connor's relationship with his adopted daughter, Rachel, before Kell killed her; flashbacked to Connor's wife Heather; had Duncan in Connor's secret storeroom – all great callbacks to the first movie. And I particularly liked Connor and Duncan conversing in three different languages, French, English and Gaelic, because it felt real, like something they would do.

On Duncan's end, they brought in Methos and Joe and even gave them a couple of good scenes. They brought back the infamous Bad Watchers, and they gave them a new and interesting pastime. The Sanctuary idea worked on two levels: as a refuge for immortals too depressed to function but unable to kill themselves, and as a way for the Bad Watchers to prevent there ever being "the One." It was creepy, too. Great idea.

And the two major duels were staged beautifully and looked pretty darned good. I'll give them that.

What didn't work?

Nearly everything involving Jacob Kell. He was like a silly caricature of evil. Kell having Connor's mother burned at the stake was just too much. And Kell's gang of rule-breaking immortal gangster minions with their fake-blood-spouting, martial arts bullshit was impossible to get into, and impossible to find intimidating.

Kate was worse. Absolutely everything involving Kate did not work. I honestly do not believe that writers should be slaves to canon under all circumstances; sometimes a cool plot requires some changes, and writers can't stay married to past mistakes. But the fact that Duncan has never been married was an important plot line in the series, and there was an entire series episode about not killing a prospective immortal before their time. It was out of character for Duncan to do what he did to Kate, and completely unrealistic that she would despise Duncan forever for giving her the gift of centuries of youth and beauty. (Yeah, that would really piss me off. Not being able to have children is a tough one, but still.)

And all of that stuff about the number of confirmed kills and the power meter and "we can't let Kell be the One" just bugged me. It felt like they were ignoring the existence of the oldest and most powerful immortal of all. In fact, when I first watched this movie, I was really worried that Kell would hunt down and take out Methos; it would have made Kell unstoppable. If I'd been writing the script and wanted to give the Kell plot some oomph, that's what I would have done. Well, except that the last character in the Highlanderverse that I want dead is Methos.

I was really ambivalent about how Connor died, too. I honestly thought that Connor dying worked for the movie; they needed to pass the torch to Duncan, yes. Connor's reasons for giving his head to Duncan worked in theory, too – his being suicidal over Rachel's death and just tired of living, giving Duncan a necessary power edge, etc. But Duncan killing Connor, even with Connor begging him to do it, felt like Richie and Sean Burns all over again. I bet it completely ticked off the Highlander movie fans, too.

Just as with a couple of other Highlander movies, there's a theatrical cut and a director's cut. Why can't they just do it right the first time? Maybe this movie would have been better if they'd cut a lot of the Kell stuff, and took Kate out completely. No, that would have left gaping plot holes.

Maybe the movies and the series were never meant to mix. Or (and I know I've said this way too many times) the producers just didn't understand what worked with their franchise, and what didn't.

Flashbacks:

— 1555 Scotland. Connor's dying mother was targeted by Kell's foster father, a priest. I think. This entire flashback was confusing and distasteful.

— 1712 Kildare, Ireland. Connor and Duncan, in absolutely great costumes, defended Kate from highwaymen. This one was just lovely. Although the wedding flashbacks that I assume weren't long afterward really ticked me off.

— 1631 Ravenna, Italy. Connor training Duncan and giving him lessons on how to be a good immortal. Again, great costumes, fun interaction. This was where they introduced the unstoppable blow thing that really didn't work in the Connor/Duncan duel on the roof.

— 1625 Glen Fruin, Scotland. Duncan resurrected from his first death and Connor was there, waiting for him. Another big break with series canon.

Bits and pieces:

— Adrian Paul looked incredible. Everything he did best in the series came through in this movie. I will never understand why he didn't become a big movie star. Was it the timing? Was he typecast? Was it the failure of this movie?

— Connor had 262 confirmed kills, and Duncan 174. Kell had 661. I actually liked this little tidbit, because killing his five minions would have given him the number of the Beast. Except he didn't kill Kate, making it 665.

— There was a brief glimpse of a neon sign reading "Silvercup." That was where the final duel between Connor and the Kurgan in the original movie was filmed. Nice touch there.

— Methos tends to coast under the radar; the two apartments we've seen have been nondescript with sparse furnishings. Here, he was living in a mansion. Out of character.

— Another change, or addition to canon: that if a prospective immortal doesn't die a violent death, they'll stay normal, be able to have kids, grow old and die. I can remember being surprised about this one, although my memories of the early movies isn't perfect; it could have been mentioned before.

— Why Joe and Methos, but not Amanda? Because she was working on The Raven and had a new love interest? I would have much preferred any sort of plot involving Amanda to the pathetic one with Kate.

— Several glimpses of the World Trade Center. Yes, we'll see it forever in movies set in New York. But it always gives me a strange feeling, like seeing a ghost.

— Jacob Kell. Another villain with a K name. There was Kate, too.

— No music by Queen. But we did get a lot of the beautiful Bonny Portmore.

Quotes:

Jacob: "I call this decap with a twist. No sugar."

Connor: "I'm Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. Like you, my friend, I have a hard time dying."

Duncan: "In the end, there can be only one. And you're not it. Call ya."

This was probably the best Highlander movie, as well as the most disappointing. I honestly don't know how to rate it; it would probably be one of those "take an average" things. sigh

Billie
---
Billie Doux knows that there can be only one. And that's Methos.

10 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Okay, have to disagree there. I think this is likely the second best after the first movie but still pretty bad.

When I first saw this I’d never seen a single episode of the TV series. I was a fan of the first movie and was annoyed that too much time was spent on these other characters and not on Conner. Now, I’m annoyed there’s too much focus on Conner at the expense of Methos and Joe.

That, along with a duff villain, limp love interest and plot holes large enough to fit a tank through, made for another really disappointing Highlander movie.

Billie Doux said...

The first movie did have the best villain. Clancy Brown is one of my favorite character actors, and his over-the-top portrayal of the Kurgan is priceless. And there's no doubt that it has a more coherent story -- it goes from point A to point B to point C instead of rambling. But a lot of it wasn't very good. I probably prefer Endgame (slightly -- very slightly) because I'm a big fan of the television series.

Mark Greig said...

Clancy Brown is a god. He’s one of those 27%ers, an actor who automatically makes anything 27% better just by his presence alone.

I read somewhere that they are planning a remake of Highlander because franchise reboots are so in this season. Hopefully they’ll be able to learn from past mistakes and iron out all the flaws of the previous films.

And cast Peter Wingfield, another classic 27%er, as an immortal character who may but should be called Methos.

Remco said...

This was the movie that got me into Highlander. I thought it was a pretty good movie when I saw it 8 years ago. I didn't know anything about Highlander, so a lot of the bad stuff didn't matter to me.

Bruce Payne as Jacob Kell made a big impression on me. 5 years later I still recognized him when I went through La Femme Nikita. I consider Jurgen to be one of the best LFN characters (with only 3 episodes!). Bruce Payne is another one of those 27%ers in my opinion.

A few years ago I learned about the existence of the Highlander series. I watched the pilot, and that was so awful I immediately stopped and never looked back. Well, not quite never: Billie's reviews convinced me to test my patience by suffering two abysmal seasons. Thank you very much, Billie! :)

In the mean time I have seen the first Highlander movie. Objectively, it was probably the best Highlander movie. I was actually surprised at how good it was. Reviews haven't been too kind to it. But Endgame will always be my favorite Highlander movie.

I have decided not to watch the second and third movies, as well as The Source. Billie's reviews make it quite clear that they are utter disasters. So that leaves the final few episodes of Highlander, an informed rewatching of Endgame, then The Raven, and finally Reunion.

I am dreading the plans for a reboot. They are going to screw it up, like the immensely succesful Star Trek 11. The Highlander writers really don't have a clue, do they? A reboot is a tool to use if there is something fundamentally wrong with a universe. You do it if you can't tell a good story within those constraints. But that's not a problem with Highlander. The problem is bad writing. That's not going to be fixed by a reboot.

But hey, if the writing is good — if it feels like Highlander, I won't let my animosity towards reboots get in the way.

Billie Doux said...

I'm so glad you tried Highlander again, Remco. I honestly believe that the good outweighs the bad.

The thought of yet another reboot is scary. Unless they finally, finally, *finally* get it right. But after all of the mistakes they've made in every one of the sequel movies and The Raven, I just have no faith that they will.

Remco said...

I honestly believe that the good outweighs the bad.

That's certainly true. Season 3 is ok, and 4 and 5 are great. But when I'll inevitably rewatch the show, I won't ignore your advice to skip some of those early episodes! ;)

Remco said...

Well, I've watched it again, and you know what? I still love it! Kell's minions don't really work, but in Highlander there have always been stupid head hunters. I appreciate them for representing the cheesy side of Highlander.

I have the "Collector's Edition" DVD with 101 minute Producer's Cut and the 88 minute Australia Cut (according to Wikipedia). The Theatrical Cut is missing, but I think that's not a huge loss.

The Australia Cut has the ending where the prize has not yet been won. (I like that, because that takes care of the When-did-Methos-die plothole.) It's not the workprint version with unfinished effects and a visible timecode. Some scenes are shorter, but I don't think we missed anything.

Notably, Methos' line about the Sanctuary being on holy ground is intact. I read a lot of fans complained about that, but to me it seemed the logical place to put it. And I don't really care about Kell's group breaking the rules. It has always been suspected that the rules were not enforced by some higher power, but a part from the whole honor thing.

The same way, I really liked that Highlander episode where fake-Methos comes to bring a message of peace. Too bad he still decided to honor the game. Had he broken the rules and set up a rule of law for immortals, then it might have worked. Head hunters would be brought to justice and immortals would live in peace together. It would be a controversial direction for the franchise, but better than 5 rebooted movies where someone wins the prize everytime. Does that not get old? ;)

I still love Kell! :D He's so theatrically evil, you can almost hear him chewing the scenery.

I thought Kate was OK. Duncan has had many relationships, and he has many skeletons in his closet. I don't know why Duncan had to be married to her -- the movie would have worked without marriage -- but so be it. The fact that he killed her is a little jarring, but at the time he did that he was still very young. He didn't have the wisdom of a 400 year old immortal yet.

Methos and Joe Dawson didn't quite get the screentime they needed. For a fan it was too little, and for a newcomer it was nonsensical. The relationship between Methos, Joe and Duncan was not explained.

Connor did get a good amount of time. I really liked the way they created the friendship between him and Duncan. It would have been better if Connor had been replaced with Fitz, but that wouldn't really have worked anyway.

The part of me that hates reboots has a small problem with Connor and Duncan's relationship, but it's a minor thing. The major continuity of the show remained intact, as well as most of the first movie. The second and third movie were ignored, which is hardly a bad thing.

All in all, this was a success.

Michael said...

Kate did not live. I love and loathe this movie; I saw it in theaters and loved every minute of it. Clear, logical plot progression, excellent pacing, and yes, Kate DIED.

Then it came out on DVD with a fancy new director's cut. Scenes in a haphazard order, additional scenes that come out of no where ("Merry f***ing Christmas"? What?), a giant smear floating over the sign that takes up 40% of the background during Conner's last fight.

And the horribly redubbed ending where Kate is somehow alive, even though they left her death scene in it. God that ending made me think of The Simpson's version of Cassablanca, edited for old folks edition.

The DVD released in America was a two disc edition. How about a theatrical cut on one disc and the director's cut on another? Of course not, it's the director's cut and an even more insane "working cut". Who wanted to see that?

I recently found an avi file online of the awesome version I saw on the big screen all those years ago. So there must be a rational DVD of the good version available somewhere in the world. Is it the Australian cut? Does anyone know where to find this?

Anonymous said...

Hi.
This kinda worked for me expect for Kate. She wasn't much fun and couldn't make up for Amanda not being there. The version I saw had her die and not turn up alive again, so good.
Kell was a bit much, but mostly worked.
Too little of Methos and Joe for me, but I guess they needed more Connor.
Maybe it wasn't really Methos' house..he could have been house-sitting for someone. That's what I choose to think.
So, a pretty okay film and better than the second one at least.

Anna

Anonymous said...

I was just hanging out on your blog, trying to take a moment away from my insane SPN obsession, clicked on Adrian Paul and found this article.

I, thankfully, don't remember anything about this movie anymore. I watched it once in the theater, decided to pretend that it never happened, and wiped it from my memory, but I had to post to agree with your comment about Peter Wingfield being a 27%er. I've never heard that term before, but I have found that anything that I see him in, whether it's his small role as the pilot in an episode of The Dead Zone, or his 3 episode run in Sanctuary, the man just makes whatever role he plays memorable. SL