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I Belong

Movie Review: Highlander – The Search for Vengeance

Title: Highlander: The Search for Vengeance

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Producer: Peter S. Davis

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Distributor: Starz Home Entertainment

Series: N/A

Release Date: June 5, 2007

Format: Animation

Runtime: 85 Minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Alistair Abell, Scott McNeil, Janyse Jaud, Jim Byrnes, and Kathleen Barr.

Synopsis (Product Description):

The lone warrior Colin travels with the wise-cracking ghost Amergan through the ages searching for the immortal despot Marcus Octavius, who killed his lover on the Celtic plains tens of centuries ago. On his quest, he discovers New York is submerged, and one dominant monolith fortress towers over the seas. Colin can save the survivors, but his sword only hungers for the blood of one man. Despite many lifetimes of training, Colin has failed to vanquish Marcus on the great battlefields of history. Can he finish what he started and stop Marcus? Will Colin lead the people to freedom or become consumed by hate? There can be only one.

The Review:

Highlander is a 1980s sci-fi/fantasy movie starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown.  Christopher Lambert plays the titular role of the Highlander, Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod.  Connor, born in 16th century Scotland is mortally wounded during a battle with the evil Kurgan played by Brown, but Connor does not die.  Instead he heals with a supernatural rapidity.  He’s subsequently chased away by his kinsmen who don’t see his recovery as miraculous, but instead view it as a clear sign of witchcraft.  Enter Sean Connery as Ramirez, an immortal, Yoda-like figure, who sports one hell of a Scottish accent for a man with a Spanish surname.  Ramirez takes it upon himself to give Connor a crash course in swordsmanship and the pros and cons of immortality.  On the up side Connor will live forever, unless someone cuts off his head, but on the downside immortals can never have children.  Another possible downer is that immortals must fight each other to the death (by beheading) during a time called The Gathering, though never on hallowed ground, until only one remains.  There can be only one, and that one surviving immortal obtains The Prize.

Highlander succeeds on several levels.  It’s a great adventure with two great, but contrasting settings—the sprawling, bucolic Scottish highlands and the gritty, cramped streets of 20th century New York City.  The New York setting places stakes the film’s claim on within the urban fantasy sub-genre and as an added bonus there are engaging romantic elements.  Highlander has great fight choreography, beautifully shot scenes and a lot of little touches that catapult it to the status of cult classic.  Highlander’s soundtrack by Queen, which includes the tracks “Princes of the Universe,” and the haunting ballad “Who Wants to Live Forever,” cements the film’s place amongst the elite of cheesy but awesome eighties action adventures.  Check out the YouTube links to the aforementioned Queen songs for a little flavor of the 80s infused awesomeness of this film.

Fast forward some years and Hollywood has cranked out not 1, not 2, but 4 increasingly ridiculous sequels, one being so bad as to head straight to DVD.  At least there was one, or two (heck maybe even three) respectable, if a bit workmanlike live action television series, with Adrian Paul starring in the most successful of the series.  Then there was an animated series of which we shall not speak : (

During Hollywood’s premeditated serial murder of the Highlander franchise, continuity was the first victim.  I’d completely given up on ever seeing Highlander being given a proper sequel or being allowed to rest in peace.  Then, a miracle.  Japanese anime studio, Studio Madhouse, releases Highlander: The Search for Vengeance in 2007 and it is good.  Nothing can resurrect the continuity that earlier sequels destroyed, but Highlander: The Search for Vengeance succeeds in resurrecting some of that original Highlander magic, minus the awesome Queen soundtrack (seriously Queen even classed up Flash Gordon, which alongside Max von Sydow makes that film watchable).  The animation studio behind this latest Highlander also brought us the amazing Ninja Scroll as well As Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

The Search for Vengeance follows another immortal who predates Connor MacLeod by over 1,000 years.  Spanning from 126 A.D. to 2187 A.D., from ancient Rome to World War 2 and beyond, this anime takes us on Colin MacLeod’s journey to avenge the death of his wife at the hands of an evil immortal named Marcus Octavius.  This is in essence a retelling of the original film, except the showdown with this Highlander’s antagonist takes place not in 1980’s New York, but in New York of the 2180’s.  The animation is fantastic and the movie’s cheesy dialogue benefits greatly from the medium.  Dialogue I would mock if it appeared in live action seems a bit more credible when delivered by animated characters.  It took 21 years, but Highlander finally received a decent follow up.

Now, I have a soft spot for Highlander, and for animation as well that makes me somewhat forgiving of this latest Highlander film’s flaws.  To be fair the dialogue in spots is dreadful.  Also, only Colin MacLeod and his antagonist, Marcus Octavius, are fully developed characters.  Then there is really awkward love scene between cartoon stiffly animated characters.  Anime excels at stylistic action animators for all their immense talents have yet to master subtler moods like tenderness.  This inability is in part why this latest Highlander fails to capture the romantic elements of the original, but then again, it’s not called Highlander: The Search for Love.  Highlander is rated R for the usual 1980s dose of action violence.  This brings me to my usual caveat.  Highlander: The Search for Vengeance ‘s violence, though animated is a far cry from a Warner Bros. cartoon.  Immortals lose their heads in graphic, blood spurting detail.  This cartoon is not for kids.  It is, however, for Highlander fans longing for a proper homage to the spirit of the original film.  My recommendation is to watch both, but if there can be only one, then watch the 1986 original, which, of all the many films baring the Highlander name, stands out as the prize.

FTC Advisory: I purchased my own copy of Highlander: The Search for Vengeance.

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Movie Review: Highlander - The Search for Vengeance, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
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