Sunday, 13 January 2013

Highlander: The Search For Vengeance (Film Review)

There’s an old saying amongst the Highlander fandom: “There should have been only one.”

This stemmed largely from the cataclysmic failure of Highlander 2: The Quickening but also some less than stellar sequels. While other later editions were genuinely enjoyable, Endgame isn’t as bad as people claim, none were able to capture the same qualities and ideas behind the original film. Until now. The best way to convey how well Highlander: The Search for Vengeance did is through another frequent statement I’ve heard from fans: “This is Highlander 2 done well.”

The first thing The Search for Vengeance did was to distance itself from a lot of the previous canon. While the old ideas of you cannot fight on holy ground, you can only kill immortals via decapitation and “there can be only one” are all kept; characters and details from everything else are gone.

Instead the film focuses upon other Macleod, yes there’s a third one, named Colin. First seen fighting against the Roman invaders of Britain back in 125 AD, Colin Macleod’s clan and wife are all killed by the opposing army leaving him as the only survivor. Determined to avenge the murderer of his loved ones, Marcus Octavius, he tries and fails to kill the far more skilled roman losing his life in the process. Surviving only by the fortune of landing on holy ground before his head could be taken; Colin reawakens as a full immortal and throughout the centuries repeatedly hunts Octavius in the name of revenge. Finally catching up to him in a post-apocalyptic future, Colin finds him as leader of a small high tech dominion on the very cusp of achieving his thousands of years old ambitions.

Perhaps what helps the film the most when compared to previous instalments is that many character aspects of the traditional hero and villain have been switched. Even going so far as to distance the link to the Macleod clan. Colin is the most obvious example of this, only earning the name Macleod many decades after his first death and rather than avoiding the game openly hunts one immortal, killing any who get in his way. He is shown to have done nothing with his immortality besides try to kill his nemesis and developed none of the skills or connections Duncan and Connor had. Even his katana relates back to his hunt rather than its usual role as a link to a mentor. He steals it from Octavius, suggested to be a great swordsmith, as it was the only blade he found strong enough not shatter when blocking the other immortal’s blows.

Octavius himself has aspects in line with the heroes through how he lives his life. He has little interest in the game and is never seen to go out of his way to hunt immortals, even keeping one alive as a servant. Instead he’s shown to take leadership roles in many dictatorships and empires over the years, trying to direct them towards becoming his own vision of utopia. Most of the time he’s also seen practicing one art form or another and trying to make a life for himself, becoming a twisted version of Connor in some respects. Octavius is still very much insane, and they do try to invoke the same feel of the Kurgan by introducing him playing an electric guitar, but it’s a different kind of insanity normally seen in the series’ antagonists.

By no means is this any highbrow concept or deeply written art, but it just goes to show that the ones writing this were caring about what they were going to be giving the fans. Not disgorging some putrid mess like The Source onto an increasingly bitter and jaded fanbase. However, for the sake of this review I’ll focus upon details which will more interest anyone who has only just picked this up without any prior experience in watching Highlander. What can they hope to find in it?

For starters: Great animation. The director behind this one was Yoshiaki Kawajiri, best known for segments in the Animatrix. Better known in the anime community as the person who worked on a number of the better titles first shipped to America during the early 1990s such as Ninja Scroll. While by no means the best seen in anime but it’s definitely of a high quality even when compared to some of the spin-offs to major franchises like Bleach.

Getting used to the style might be another thing though, some viewers have been put off by the more 90s aspects of the animation such as the faces, outfits and the more fan-servicey moments with a number of the characters. Plus one irritating kid sidekick who thankfully gets ditched for most of the film. On the negative side though, there’s also a few increasingly dated visual gimmicks which are on display once in a while. The most obvious ones being bullet time, some very fake looking flames and computer enhanced visual movements. All of which stick out like a sore thumb among the far better animation and would have looked far better if they had been drawn.

The swordfights also all fantastically made, having very good direction behind them and all of which stand out memorably from one another. It says something about the film when the two weakest of the duels feature a man wielding a four meter long chainsaw and a brawl atop a cargo plane already in flight.

Are there any true weaknesses in the film? Well, yes. The soundtrack for one doesn’t stand out and has a criminal lack of Queen. Though we should probably count our blessings they didn’t have a band try to remix Princes of the Universe this time. Along with this the voice acting varies heavily between decent and very poor. Scott McNeil is definitely having a lot of fun as the ghostly mentor and Jim Byrnes isn’t too bad for the short time he’s given lines but others like Alistair Abell you can’t help but feel aren’t the best for their character. The number of flashbacks and story structure can also sometimes become irritating. One or two feel like they’ve been included in the wrong place or could have been used to actually expand upon one minor character’s history, but all things considered these are only small issues.

If you’ve not guessed, this is a fairly good film for what it is. It’s not Ghost in the Shell and won’t be being compared with Akira any time soon, but it is seriously underrated. I’ve seen copies of the film being sold in conventions from £00.99 boxes or even just as £03.00 in some major stores. If you’re a fan of Highlander or just want a good swordfighting anime, you could do vastly worse than getting this.


Highlander: The Search for Vengeance and all related characters and media are owned by Madhouse and Imagi animation Studios.

No comments:

Post a Comment