The Highlander series has been around for over twenty years thanks to a never-ending supply of movies, TV and animated series, and spin-offs. To take the title in a new direction, Davis-Panzer Productions approached director Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Wicked City) and Madhouse to creature a new feature film based on a script by David Abramowitz (Highlander: The Series, Highlander: The Source). The final result is a Kawajiri-styled Highlander film that draws inspiration from Kawajiri’s original ideas, Abramowitz’s script, and Russell Mulcahy’s original Highlander film. Following Colin MacLeod, we watch his epic battle cross two thousand years of history as he tries to slay Marcus Octavius for murdering his wife. Manga Entertainment brings the animated introduction of a new MacLeod to the ongoing series with Highlander: The Search for Vengeance.
Audio: English 5.1 DD, English 2.0 DD
Extras: East meets West: Filmmakers crossing borders, A talk with Kawajiri, Photo Montage, Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, Previews.
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Colin MacLeod (Alistair Abell) is a proud warrior in Northern England in 125 A.D. when Marcus Octavius and the Roman Empire arrives in England. Unbeknownst to Colin and his wife, Moya (Kathleen Barr), the battle to force the Romans back would not go as planned. After drugging Colin to save him from facing overwhelming odds, Moya sneaks over to the Roman camp and begs Marcus Octavius (Zachary Samuels) to let her husband live. Marcus, however, is a cunning tactician and patriot to the idea of the Roman Empire. Marcus denies Moya’s attempt to seduce him with her body and receives a dagger plunged deep into his chest for the insult. Moya attempts to flee the camp, but Marcus catches his would-be assassin. Moya is shocked to see the man alive after a death blow; Marcus is an immortal. Making an example of the temptress, Marcus hoists Moya onto a cross to be the fallen witness to the Romans wiping out Colin’s group.
Having woken in the heat of the slaughter of his own camp, Colin attempts to enter the battle only to be buried under some falling rubble. When he awakens, Colin finds his friends dead and his wife hanging from a cross on the hill overlooking the battleground. Colin rushes to his wife and helps her down only to hear her final wishes. Moya makes Colin swear that he will not seek vengeance on Marcus. Colin promises as she passes away in his arms and swears anew that he will make Marcus pay for killing his wife.
Highlander jumps between several time periods to cover Colin’s ongoing war with Marcus Octavius as Marcus attempts to revive his Roman ideals over and over again throughout the history of mankind. Whether it’s the hills of the Scottish highlands, the rise and fall of the Chinese empire, or even battling the Germans during the world wars; Colin manages to track down Marcus each time. The unfinished battle pushes Colin to keep seeking the killer into the year 2187 where mankind’s actions have wreaked havoc upon the world. Viruses, wars, global warming, and other stupid moves by mankind have destroyed nations and landscapes, leaving only a city-state government in place for each region. New York City is governed by a supreme ruler, Marcus Octavius, who dictates the destruction of all who do not agree with his rule-of-law from his golden fortress. Aided by Kyala (Janyse Jaud), another immortal whom he forced into his personal service during 16th century Japan, Marcus has managed to find legions of followers and well-armed soldiers. Only an underground resistance group manages to hold out as they face poor conditions and a virus that has wiped out 80% of the population.
From the flooded wasteland surrounding New York City comes a lone fighter with a katana blade and trenchcoat. Colin collects the bounty on the head of an immortal he killed and is forced to be escorted to the golden fortress to meet Marcus. While being driven through the city streets, Colin decides he wants to get out and easily slices all of the guards. A young black child named Joe greets Colin after witnessing the thrashing he gave the security force, and Joe directs the hero to the local bar. Inside Colin gets a bottle of whiskey to drown his troubles when a woman approaches him with a line very similar to a woman from his past. Dahlia (Eid Lakis) offers herself as something better than the booze, but Colin declines. The sound of more security coming, though, gives Colin no reason to resist her offer to find some place safer to hide out. Once underground, Colin witnesses the devastation the virus and poor conditions have wrought on the local population. And you can only imagine what his reaction will be when he finds out that the ruler of New York City is the same Marcus he has been searching for.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance may be based on a script by David Abramowitz, but it’s obvious how much input and inspiration Yoshiaki Kawajiri had on putting together the production, from characters to storyline to animation. Kawajiri has taken elements from the original Highlander film like the sadness of the immortal MacLeod, the jumping around in time to tell the story, and other details the core fans will enjoy to make a new Highlander that fits very well with the beginning of the series twenty years ago. The animation by Madhouse is the kind of high-caliber work you’d expect from the studio and is filled with epic battles throughout the film. The casting is solid overall with the main cast and supporting characters. The only noticeable weakness is Colin’s lone-warrior-of-2187-self as Alistair Abell tries to duplicate Christopher Lambert’s unfeeling Conner MacLeod presentation from the original Highlander film. It just doesn’t translate well when you’re moving from live action to an animated feature.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is for the hardcore fans of the original Highlander film and anyone who enjoys a good Yoshiaki Kawajiri title. Unlike some other recent East-meets-West collaborations to match Western properties to Eastern animation styles, Highlander comes through mostly unscathed. The first half of the film will probably seem a tad drag-ish as we are given details of the past and future in a jumbled presentation, but the film and storyline come together quickly as we move on to seeing Colin attempt to take down Marcus from his golden fortess. The DVD extras include interviews with Kawajiri and the production crews on both sides of the Pacific, a slideshow featuring line art and screencaps, and the original trailers for the feature film. Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is filled with action and great character designs; it’s perfect for fans of Mulcahy’s original work or titles like Ninja Scroll.