First thing Tuesday morning I decided to run to my local Best Buy and pick up a copy of the new Highlander: Search for Vengeance DVD.
Outside of being a Highlander fan, I'm also an animation nut. So it goes without saying that I was geeking out over watching the new direct-to-DVD anime film. Now, after having the opportunity to see it in its entirety (special features too), well, I’m a little disappointed. First, I'll explain my expectations...
At its best, Highlander: Search for Vengeance could've turned out to be Gladiator. At its median, it could’ve been the 300. At its worse, maybe Pathfinder (mind you, I haven’t watched Pathfinder but I have it on good authority that it wasn’t half bad). But in the end, it turns out this animated Highlander comes in a few notches under Pathfinder and falls short of its potential. Which is really disappointing to me because it had everything going for it...
- The amazing Highlander concept and mythology.
- A main character that is actually a Highlander and a member of the clan MacLeod.
- A writer that worked on the great and underrated Highlander television series.
- An East meets West style - three act story meets Japanese animation.
- And a director (Kawajiri Yoshiaki) with a resume that includes Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D, and The Animatrix (Program).
The problem with the movie is that it tries too hard to be Mad Max cool and ends up being Mortal Kombat: The Movie lame. The story itself is serviceable, albeit cliché. We're talking simple revenge story, although if you watch the special features the director would have you believe it's anything but. Simple revenge stories DO work (Kill Bill, For A Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in the West) if done right but not when they're in denial, let alone cheesy and at times laughable.
The post-apocalyptic landscape is a good contrast to the Highlander-required flashbacks but instead of a true parallel between the two worlds, the scenes hang along for effect. In the first Highlander film, the flashbacks provided the audience with a real foundation and some much-needed characterization. We got to know Conner MacLeod, Ramirez, the Kurgan, and what the whole immortals fighting immortal thing was about. The scenes clued us into the benefits of living forever (um, not dying) and the curses (losing loved ones, exile, loneliness). But those scenes worked because they added layers to the movie's present tense. In Vengeance, the flashbacks are a novelty and become relegated to a sidebar journey through Roman invasion, Chinese civil war, a Spanish pirate battle, and World War 2 dogfights. The main character is never developed and falls hapless into "I'm cool cause, um, well, I'm cool" land. What's worse, when characters speak, their dialogue feels like wooden, monosyllabic video game speak. Again, everybody is trying (or, more accurately, written to be) to be so bad ass that they come off as ridiculous.
On a positive note, the animation is pretty good. It's not as atmospheric as Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust or Ninja Scroll, but the action is genuine anime in style. Speaking of action, it was a bit lacking due to only two notable action sequences. And even those two sequences could've been fleshed out. Heck, if anything I figured the movie would be too much action when it really only dishes out the bare minimum. Anyway, back to production. There's some 3D/CGI here and there but this is one of those times when it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Seems like the staff took a cue from the Korean anime Sky Blue and made a good effort in meshing 2D with 3D. Finally, the character designs feel a bit generic but based on the director's comments, the production was hurried. Although the designs could have benefited from some extra time, the overall animation is pretty solid for a direct-to-DVD release.
All that being said, I'm not going to pawn off my copy on a friend or trade it in. Highlander: Search for Vengeance wasn't what I wanted it to be but its more disappointing to me because its not what it could've been. The pieces were there but the producers couldn't bring it together.
If you're an anime fan, Vengeance is worth a rental. Or if you want to skim on the expense and you have cable, Sci Fi Channel is going to air the film on July 30th. But if you're a Highlander fan, it's OK to skip this one. While every Highlander film after the first one has been an insult to the original concept, Search for Vengeance doesn't add anything to the mythology that's not worth missing.