Tom Jolliffe looks at the prospect of a Highlander remake directed by Chad Stahelski and starring Henry Cavill…
Right off the bat, I will state this…I love Highlander. The original film was very much a product of its time. Creative, wild, a little overblown, little regard for logic, but somewhat groundbreaking too. As a stylistic exercise it was immense, from sweeping camera moves (including use of a wire system that these days has been refined into the full movements a drone can offer), to the greatest scene transitions ever committed to film (a fish tank transitioning to a lake is still perplexingly seamless). Despite the hokeyness, the unsubtlety that comes with a Queen soundtrack hammering into several scenes (but brilliantly) and the notion of immortals lopping off each others heads through time, it’s a perfect package.
The original film had the blessing of both a quietly soulful Christopher Lambert in the lead, never outstretching his limitations (Scottish accent aside), and Sean Connery. With Connery on board, the whole history and lore of the immortals is boiled down to some succinct and evasive exposition nuggets. It’s Connery, so everything sounds cooler, and everything sounds more feasible for having him relay the history. When pushed on finer details he can merely answer back, “Why is the Shky blue?” Umm…okay, I’m with you Sean, no need for more. The film looped itself shut and closed the book, but then spawned four awful sequels and several TV/comic/cartoon spinoffs.
I have tended to be standoffish about remakes of films like this. For one thing, they’re almost always awful. You take something like Fright Night, Total Recall, RoboCop, The Hitcher or Point Break, with very distinctive quirks and trends from those times. They work and overcome some flaws. Those imperfections, because the films carry such cult followings, become perfections. Each remake of the aforementioned has gone the route of convention. Stripping away everything special and taking things too seriously, or just omitting elements like satire or excessive elements (like Paul Verhoeven’s comic violence) and following the default blockbuster formula. Of course you can’t photocopy what made those, or indeed Highlander great. You need your own spin, but said spin needs to be another selling point, a quirk, a clearly defined personality trait.
Under the watchful eye of Chad Stahelski, I’ve no doubt that a Highlander remake/reboot will find the right balance between reverence and having its own distinct personality. There will be an overriding selling point that marks it as more than another half hearted and lazy remake. As he showed with John Wick, Stahelski knows action. He can create sequences that are eye-catching and which become trademark. Wick had it’s own unique style of action with a nice gumbo mix of mix martial arts, combining with gunplay (which blended tactical mindedness with comical fantasy to perfection). The films had a sincerity, not to make fun of their outlandish ideas. They approach it straight faced but never too dourly. There are enough winks for the whole Wick world to transcend how illogical some of it is. With this kind of approach, perfectly blending straight faced believability with wry nods, we have a good start in building the world of Highlander.
Additionally, Stahelski has shown his ability to make visually engaging films. Pulling in Dan Lautsen (John Wick: Chapter 2 and Chapter 3) on cinematography would guarantee a glorious visual palette. The key is, he cares about the impact of the visual department, from who is shooting the film, to the people dressing the sets and characters. There are many ways in which the film could build the lore and approaches, and there’s an ability to fill in gaps left by the original, without overstuffing. Indeed also, the original was so reliant on flashbacks to tell the story. That’s usually a no go, though Russell Mulcahy’s original is all the more charming because of those diversions back. If we have less of those diversions back, and more of a progressive story from the beginning, we have a different approach that pulls it away from the original, whilst retaining many of those sellable elements we loved, such as sword battles etc. Of course those sword battles, under the eye of Stahelski, will be a key selling point. If he can redefine action to the point that many rival films are described as having ‘Wick style action’ now, then he can certainly reinvent the wheel as far as sword battles.
As for Cavill. Well he’s perfect casting, and yet someone I never thought of prior. As our titular hero, with an immortal quest to be ‘the one,’ Cavill is ideal. He’s put aside a little of the shadow of lipgate and an underwhelming Superman behind him in recent years and proved himself popular. The Witcher gave him an in to sword and sorcery and he proved popular in the role among fans. We know he’s physically able having proved his action chops through the years in Man of Steel (etc), The Man From Uncle and going toe to toe with Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Fallout. Cavill never looks less than a commandingly chinned hero. He could deliver the necessary quiet stoicism, with enough hidden caveats of depth to make his MacLeod (or whoever) enigmatic.
I say this as someone who, through years of rumours, has always hissed like a fearful kitty at every Highlander rumour prior to Stahelski coming on board. He got my interest, and the prospect of casting Cavill only cements my interest in a film that a few years ago, I’d have sold my soul to the Devil to keep from production. I’m down for this reboot and it (clearly) takes a lot for me to say this. What are your thoughts on Cavill teaming with Stahelski for a Highlander reboot? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/