Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Highlander: Search for Vengeance
Colin McCloud is one of a select few in the world who is immortal. Able to sense each other's presence, the immortals never know disease, never age, and cannot be killed unless beheaded. McCloud, however, isn't much enjoying his eternal youth; ever since his wife was crucified on an ancient battlefield by a ruthless Roman immortal with the moniker of Marcus Octavius, he's been on a millennia-long journey to track down and kill her killer. It's now the 22nd century and McCloud arrives in the devastated ruins of New York. He begins mixing with the local resistance movement, which is trying to unseat the despot who controls access to the vaccine for a deadly virus that is decimating their population. When the despot turns out to be Marcus himself, Colin's bloody quest is underway once more. Will his quest ever end? Is the presence of beautiful, scrappy resistance fighter Dahlia enough to awaken the long-dormant human buried under Colin's immortal rage?
Part of a growing number of titles animated in Japan specifically for consumption in the US (e.g. Afro Samurai, IGPX) Highlander gets off on the right foot by skipping all of the murky "there can be only one" and "the quickening" mythology and opting to go straight for head-lopping action, but then almost immediately plants its foot squarely into the middle of a big steaming pile of post-apocalyptic clichés. Evil despots, deadly viruses, and cynical saviors, oh my!
It must be said up front that Highlander looks good. Really good. Gorgeous in fact. Veteran theatrical director Yoshiaki Kawajiri knows how to use a theatrical budget to greatest effect, making for something that looks like it belongs on the biggest screen possible. Set largely in a post-apocalyptic future littered with the opulent, decaying remains of a dead civilization, it's an undeniable feast for the eyes. Colin's initial resurrection, set in an imposing stonehenge-esqe monument amidst a time-lapse blur of days and moonlit nights that ends in a sun-bathed field of windblown dandelion seeds, is a rare sequence of surpassing beauty that lingers in the mind's eye long after it is over. Naturally, having helped to promote anime's stateside reputation in the 80s and 90s for sex and violence with titles like Ninja Scroll and Wicked City, Kawajiri fills Highlander with—you guessed it—sex and violence. And he's a seasoned pro at both. There's plenty of frank sexuality and one sweaty sex scene, and his staging of sword battles is among the best in the business. The battles are thrilling little pieces that hit the right balance of outrageousness and realism, know when to pause for maximum limb-chopping coolness, but are swift enough that they never drag on or seem needlessly drawn out.
With all of the technical skill on display though, it's a shame about the script. Remember the million theoretical monkeys with their typewriters that eventually write Shakespeare? Take the ten stupidest of those monkeys, give them a couple of old Smith-Coronas, and they could write this script in under a week. Fitting, given that the dialogue is the intellectual equivalent of being hit by freshly thrown monkey dung. Try as you might to tell yourself that it's merely a product of ignorance, you can't help but feel that it was done just to piss you off. "You not only helped bring the vaccine," says one character "you brought them something much more important... You've brought them hope." Splat. Monkey dung on the brain.
Naturally, dialogue isn't the only problem. You can't take a step without busting your ankle in a plot-hole or blundering into a poorly thought-out idea. Colin at one point is told that he should stop chasing vengeance and enjoy immortal life with the ever-reincarnating love of his life, without a single thought for the realities of the situation. He'll have to watch his love die again and again. And what about finding her every time she reincarnates (ask the kids in Fantastic Children about how easy that is)? If he finds her too late, will he have "relations" with an old granny? And if he finds her too early— ...um, strike that line of thought. Character interactions are insultingly simplistic, their personalities stereotypes, their development forced and unconvincing. The relationship between Colin and Dahlia is a wonder of narrative convenience, with no effort made to maintain plausibility. Some of the conflicts are so embarrassingly overwrought that even the estimable talents of Kawajiri are no match for their silliness. No amount of technical prowess can keep Allied freedom fighter Colin and evil Nazi Marcus confronting each other on the wing of a falling plane from feeling like something straight out of a fourth-rate continental James Bond rip-off. The script even botches the pacing. Kawajiri can begin and end them with eye-popping transitions, but he can't keep the endless series of flashbacks from constantly murdering whatever narrative momentum the movie has managed to build in the meantime. Even at a bare 85 minutes, the film feels attenuated.
And just to polish things off, there's the sometimes-inappropriate electric guitar of the score (which is otherwise fine), and the flatness of the acting. Over-enunciated and under-emoted, it isn't the deliberate flatness of something like Jin-Roh, but the flatness of actors who don't give a rat's ass about their characters. And who can blame them? Secondary characters fare best, while Colin is just plain bad. The ripe brogues during the Scottish sequences are fun, but that's the extent of it. Originally dubbed in English, there is no Japanese track for this film.
Company previews, a slideshow—of stills, production artwork, and photos—and a teaser trailer composed of animation not in the film accompany two short documentary features—an interesting discussion with director Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and an "East meets West" feature in which the American producers do much back-patting and self-congratulation.
Saddled with a script of a quality more consistent with that of fan fiction than that of a professional screenplay, all Highlander can boast are its visuals and impeccably staged bloodshed. Even those have their drawbacks. There's some tired Matrix-y stuff involving bullets, and the character designs are a tad silly in some respects ("You cannot win against me McCloud, for the chin is mightier than the mullet!"). Save yourself the hassle and just watch Vampire Hunter D again.
Overall (dub) : C
Story : F
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B-
+ Beautiful to look at; cool fights.
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