At this point, it seems like nearly every movie concept is a sequel to an existing franchise or an attempt to launch a new franchise that will include many sequels. Frequently this is done by rebooting franchises in a new way in order to cash in on the name recognition without being tied down to existing continuity. For years, many have tried to do just this with the Highlander property.
A brand new Highlander movie has been a project in some form of development for years. At various points, names like Ryan Reynolds, Tom Cruise and Dave Bautista have all had their names attached to it. Now Henry Cavill has become the newest star to try out a Scottish accent, as it appears the newest iteration of the film, to be directed by Deadpool 2’s Chad Stahelski, is moving forward once again.
While this may just seem from the outside like just the newest reboot of a long forgotten property, I think that a new take on the Highlander mythos actually sounds like a great idea. The problem is that too often movie reboots are tackled to revitalize properties that don’t need reboots. The previous version was fine. But Highlander is one franchise that could really use the reboot. Here’s why.
Highlander Has A Lot Of Potential
At its core, the Highlander franchise is based on the idea that living among us, all throughout history, have been some people who, for reasons never explained (or never explained well), are born immortal. These people are fated to battle each other to the death until only is left. The chosen weapon among the immortals is the sword, because the only way to kill one is to cut their head from their body. When only one immortal remains, they gain "the prize," i.e. immeasurable power to do with as they choose.
Why do immortals exist? Nobody knows. What is the prize? It's only vaguely explained, but that's because none of it matters. It's all a little crazy, but it is born to build a franchise. You can set a movie in any time period with any characters. We could get standalone movies dealing with individual characters or multi-movie arcs following one character through history. Any kind of movie a filmmaker wants to make can fit intro these ideas easily. The original Highlander could have easily been a trilogy that sees him move through centuries, eventually defeating his enemy in a final battle to be the last.
The First Highlander Started At The End
However, while franchise movies are a major component of any studios’ plans these days, it’s pretty easy to tell that the original Highlander was never really meant to have sequels, because if it had, it would have started much earlier in the story. All that information we have about what the immortals are and why they fight is given to us in the first movie in flashbacks. When the first Highlander movie opens, nearly every immortal who has ever lived is already dead.
The original Highlander focuses on Connor MacLeod, a Scotsman born in 1518 who is killed in battle, but recovers. We learn his history through flashbacks because the main story takes place in then-modern day mid-1980s New York City. There are four living immortals at the beginning of the film, one introduced in a flashback and only one when things are said and done. There can be only one, and at the end there is, but the story is also over and there’s no place for sequels to go.
Highlander 2 Was A Complete Mess (That Doomed Other Sequels)
Because the first Highlander puts a pretty definitive end to the whole thing, any sequel was going to have some heavy lifting to do in order to justify its own existence. We’ll never really know if the sequel could have worked because we never really got to see it. Highlander 2: The Quickening was a movie completed by the insurance company after the production went over budget, and it generally is viewed as a terrible movie.
It gives the immortals an origin story so bad that decades before the Snyder Cut, an alternate Renegade Version was released years later to try and undo as much of it as possible. Much like the Snyder Cut, this version tries to built a very different story out of an existing movie. It improves some of the plot details, but nothing short of an entirely new film could have made Highlander 2 work. A third Highlander movie simply takes place before Highlander 2 in order to avoid it entirely. It still has to retcon the continuity of the first one in order to make any sense in an increasingly confusing franchise.
The Highlander Series Was Better, But Still Doesn't Entirely Work
The Highlander television series was essentially already a reboot of the original Highlander idea. It followed a new Macleod named Duncan as he attempted to survive The Gathering, the event that would bring immortals together to fight until only one remained. The series does fix one major problem with the films, as it starts when the world is still full of immortals, so Duncan gets to kill one of them every week. The series got a few movie follows up after it was over.
The series' relationship to the original films is never made very clear. It feels like it's separate from the films; a fresh start. However, it doesn’t ignore the movies entirely. Christopher Lambert's Connor Macleod appears at the beginning of the series and also in the first movie, and his appearance still makes the whole thing feel like it’s trying to fit into the mythos of the original films. Taken on its own, the series is fine. Actually, it's pretty good, but it still can’t cut itself loose from the original films entirely.
The New Highlander Can Learn From These Mistakes
The concept of Highlander can birth a great franchise. Yes, the previous versions have their moments, but a completely fresh reboot has incredible potential. Whether Henry Cavill is playing a version of Connor Macleod or somebody new entirely, the story can start over at the very beginning. We could see a first movie literally just be an origin story taking place in 1518 or whenever they want this version to start. We could follow this new Highlander through the centuries over multiple movies rather than trying to cram it all in together for one story.
Whatever the plan is, simply by having a plan at the outset, expecting that there at least could be more movies after this one. The first movie can be made in a way that allows for new stories to more easily flow from it, meaning those sequels will have much greater potential to be good as well.
I’m a fan of Highlander, but that’s not to say that I think it doesn’t have a lot of problems as a franchise. It has some high points and potential, so of all the reboots that we get, this one feels like it could actually be worthwhile, as long as it learns from the mistakes of its past.