Highlander (fight 2 of 5)

And we’re back for more!

When we last left off, we’d gone through a very unusual but telling introduction to this film’s mythology and aesthetic. It’s difficult for those of us who have grown up knowing the ground rules of the Highlander world for decades now to really understand what it might have been like to watch this with virgin eyes, to see it all unfold in a movie theater in 1986 for the very first time. “There’s apparently this small number of magical sword-fighters who occasionally duel secretly in public places, and stuff gets blown up? I’m on board.” One of the more tantalizing hooks of this franchise, what appeals to the inner geek in so many of us, is the idea of this sub-society of Immortals who hide in plain sight, right here in our “real” world. And with the film’s second fight, we get a bit more of that.

2) Connor MacLeod vs. The Kurgan (round one)

This one is definitely a bit more impromptu. MacLeod is being not-so-discreetly tailed by Brenda Wyatt, who will eventually be the film’s main love interest but for now is interested in getting a look at Connor’s sword. That’s not a euphemism: his katana is a historical anomaly, having been forged by the legendary Japanese blacksmith Goro Masamune, using techniques that wouldn’t become popular for centuries to come. The NYPD, having arrived at the Garden just after the previous fight’s Quickening, correctly suspect MacLeod in Fasil’s death, so they’ve enlisted the help of Brenda (she’s a metallurgy consultant for the police, which is apparently a thing) to examine the forensic evidence at the scene. (The cops don’t have sufficient evidence to arrest MacLeod because he stashed the killing weapon before getting picked up, and they haven’t found it because they’re dumb.)

Blah, blah, blah. The thing is, MacLeod is being tracked not just by Brenda but by his arch-nemesis, the Kurgan (more on him soon), and Brenda walks right into a fight between hero & villain in the middle of a dark, generic industrial area. There’s a lot of piping and vague construction-esque structures standing around– basically the type of place that exists for fight scenes in movies, comic books and video games.

The most notable thing about the choreography here is that while the Kurgan came with his own enormous blade, Connor is unarmed. I can’t remember if he is unwilling to use his sword in front of Brenda (who works for the police, and stays there watching the whole time instead of running away like a smart person) or if he merely hadn’t retrieved it yet, but either way MacLeod is left having to improvise– once again Mac deploys a variety of pipes and even at one point a hefty fire hose (again with the euphemisms?). Thanks to the none-too-subtle sound design, we get the impression that MacLeod’s connecting blows do put a serious hurt on the Kurgan, but nonetheless the guy just keeps getting back up, quickly dominating his smaller opponent. Connor’s neck is nearly on the receiving end of Kurgan’s broadsword, but he rallies, and just as the fight continues, it’s interrupted by a police helicopter.

And with that, it’s over. Kurgan vows that they’ll fight again, and takes off; Connor & Brenda run the other direction.

This one is short & largely unremarkable, but solid. As a fight it’s a bit underwhelming, due to its brief nature and lack of resolution, but then, it doesn’t aspire to be anything more. It’s less a real fight than it is a skirmish, a brief diversion to keep the audience excited as the story chugs along. Not every fight in a movie can or even should be a show-stopping number; sometimes it’s best just to give out a little snack between big meals, to keep our stomachs from rumbling. Done right, these little snacks can act as ballast or connective tissue for the meatier sequences– a fact lost on many would-be action filmmakers. It’s all about pacing.

Meanwhile a few bits of character and story are pushed along in this fight. Brenda gets in even further over her head, we see MacLeod being inventive and the Kurgan’s unrelenting brute force. You might ding it for being in such a drab, dark setting, but this is mitigated by some fairly unexpected use of improvised weaponry. Most importantly, this scene does everything it’s supposed to do.

Grade: B

Coming soon: Well, last time I promised we’d cover fights two and three, but this took a bit more verbiage than I expected. Soon enough though we’ll come back to cover the film’s first truly impressive duel, a bravura sequence pitting one of the all-time great genre villains against a flamboyant Egyptian with a Spanish name, a Scottish accent and a Japanese sword. Unfortunately for the latter, there can be only one.

2 comments on “Highlander (fight 2 of 5)

  1. I’m pretty sure Kurgan got lucky and caught Mac offguard before Mac could retrieve his sword.

    BTW: total fan of improv weapon scenes. That’s one of the things I liked with the Willis/Urban fight in RED as they both improvised extensively.

    At some point are you just going to start going on endlessly about Game of Thrones? Lots of review material there, eh?

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