In August 1994, news broadcasts announce that the ozone layer is fading, and will be completely gone in a matter of months. In Africa, millions have perished from the effects of unfiltered sunlight. Among the dead is Connor MacLeod's wife, Brenda Wyatt MacLeod. Before dying, Brenda extracts a promise from Connor that he will solve the problem of the ozone layer.
By 1999, Connor MacLeod becomes the supervisor of a scientific team headed by Dr. Allan Neyman, which attempts to create an electromagnetic shield to cover the planet, and protect it from the Sun’s radiation. The team succeeds, in effect giving Earth an artificial ozone layer. MacLeod and Neyman are proud to have saved humanity, and believe they will be remembered for a thousand years.
The shield has the side effect of condemning the planet to a state of constant night, a high average global temperature, and high humidity. By 2024, the years of darkness have caused humanity to lose hope and fall into a decline. The shield has fallen under the control of the Shield Corporation. The corporation’s current chief executive, David Blake, is focused on profit, and is imposing fees for the corporation’s services. A number of terrorist groups have begun trying to take down the Shield, among them Louise Marcus, a former employee of the Shield Corporation.
Meanwhile, MacLeod, now a frail old man, expects to eventually die of natural causes. As he watches a performance of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, an image of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez appears, and induces MacLeod to recall a forgotten event of his past. On the planet Zeist, a last meeting is held between the members of a rebellion against the rule of General Katana. The rebellion’s leader, Ramirez, chooses "a man of great destiny" from among them—MacLeod—to carry out a mission against Katana. At this moment, Katana and his troops attack, crushing the rebellion. Katana orders his men to capture Ramirez and MacLeod alive and kill the rest of the rebels. The two captives are put on trial by Zeist's priests, who sentence them to be exiled and reborn on Earth in pursuit of "The Prize." Winning the Prize gives the victor the choice to either grow old and die on Earth, or to return to Zeist. Katana is unsatisfied with their decision, but the sentence is executed, leading to the events of the original 1986 film.
Back in 2024, Louise Marcus discovers that the ozone layer has in fact restored itself naturally, which means that the shield is no longer needed. The Shield Corporation is aware of this development, but has chosen to hide it from the general public in order to maintain its main source of profit. Meanwhile, on Zeist, Katana decides that MacLeod cannot be allowed to return, and sends his immortal henchmen, Corda and Reno, to kill him.
Marcus manages to reach MacLeod first, and asks for his help in taking down the Shield. To her disappointment, she finds the passionate person she once admired has grown into a tired old man. MacLeod explains to her that he is dying and expresses his disapproval of terrorism. Before they can finish their conversation, Corda and Reno attack. MacLeod manages to decapitate them both, absorbs their energy during the Quickening, and regains his youthful appearance. In the process, MacLeod summons Ramirez back to life.
In Glencoe, Scotland - the location of his death in the first Highlander film - Ramirez is revived. He finds himself on a theatrical stage during a performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Meanwhile, MacLeod has found a new lover in Marcus. He attempts unsuccessfully to explain to her the concepts of his immortality. Elsewhere, General Katana arrives in New York, the scene of The Gathering and begins wreaking havoc.
Both Ramirez and Katana soon adapt to their new environment. Ramirez’s earring is apparently valuable enough to pay both for a new suit he acquires from the finest and oldest tailor’s shop in Scotland, and for an airplane ticket to New York City. Katana finds New York much to his liking. After entertaining himself for a while, Katana encounters MacLeod at a church. Since immortals are forbidden from fighting on holy ground, they do not fight each other, but MacLeod expresses rage at being immortal once again.
Soon thereafter, MacLeod is contacted by Ramirez, who joins them in their plan to take down the Shield. Katana, expecting this, forges an uneasy alliance with David Blake, who mentions that shutting down the planetary shield would require so much energy that the planet would be destroyed. The conflict between the two sets of allies eventually leads to the deaths of Dr. Allan Neyman, Ramirez, Blake and General Katana himself. MacLeod succeeds in taking down the Shield by using the combined energies of his final Quickening from General Katana. Marcus sees the stars for the first time in her life. MacLeod then claims The Prize by returning to Zeist with Marcus.Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod
Sean Connery as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez
Virginia Madsen as Louise Marcus
Michael Ironside as General Katana
Allan Rich as Allan Neyman
John C. McGinley as David Blake
Philipp Brock as Cabbie
Rusty Schwimmer as Drunk
Ed Trucco as Jimmy
Steven Grives as Hamlet
Jimmy Murray as Horatio
Pete Antico as Corda
Peter Bucossi as Reno
The sets of Highlander II have been compared to those of Ridley Scott, particularly those of Blade Runner. Lambert and Ironside both suffered injuries during the filming, according to the St. Petersburg Times: "Lambert chipped one of Ironside's teeth during a fight scene, while Ironside inadvertently chopped off part of Lambert's finger during a swordfight scene. Both men recovered from their injuries, but Ironside said precision thrusts and parries were impossible when wielding a 22-pound broadsword."
John C. McGinley made his character's voice as deep as possible in an effort to sound like Orson Welles. He has since admitted that this was a bad idea.
According to the documentary Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina, the film's apparent poor performance is partially a result of the bonding company’s interference with the work of director Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy reportedly hated the final product so much he walked out of the film’s world premiere after viewing its first 15 minutes. For similar reasons, Christopher Lambert threatened to walk out of the project when it was nearing fruition. However, due to contract obligations, he did not.
A once lost alternate ending, commonly known as "The Fairytale Ending", was shown only in some European theaters and has never been shown in any of the American cuts. The ending shows Connor magically returning to planet Zeist, taking Louise along with him, while Ramirez’ voice is heard in the background. An early version of this ending is shown on the Special Edition. However, it also includes footage of Virginia Madsen as Louise Marcus speaking to Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod. Madsen is on location while Lambert is suspended by wires in front of a blue screen. After a brief exchange where Connor asks Louise to come with him, the theatrical ending is shown where the two embrace in front of a field of stars, then transform into light streaks and fly off into space.
This ending is sometimes seen in televised broadcasts of Highlander II: The Quickening. The VHS version simply cuts off after Connor looks up at the starry sky and smiles, after the smoke from the explosion of the December Installation clears.
Highlander II: The Quickening was released in the US on 1 November 1991 and opened at #3, grossing $5,280,490 in 960 theaters in the opening weekend. It grossed a total of $15,556,340 in the US.
A $1 million television advertising campaign was run for the release of the film.
The Theatrical Cut was released on VHS during May 13, 1992, in the United States by Columbia TriStar.
Two versions of Highlander II were released theatrically in 1991. Nigel Green of Entertainment Film Distributors, which distributed the film in the UK, allowed the creative team the chance to make their own version of the film after the completion bond company took over the editing. The British version ran 10 minutes longer than the American/bonding company's cut, and featured, among other sequences, an extended prologue better explaining Connor's motives to creating the Shield, Connor and Louise above the Shield, and the aforementioned "Fairytale Ending."
In 1995, Mulcahy made a Director’s Cut version known as the Renegade Version. The film was reconstructed largely from existing material, with certain scenes removed and others added back in, and the entire sequence of events changed. All references to the Immortals being aliens from another planet were eliminated; instead, this cut reveals that the Immortals are from an unspecified, distant past on Earth, banished by priests into random locations in the future to keep the Prize from being won in their lifetime.
Other new sequences include a battle between MacLeod and Katana atop a moving vehicle after they escape the security facility, and MacLeod and Louise climbing through a mountain tunnel to emerge above the Shield to confirm that the radiation levels are back to normal. The new version also removes a major continuity gaffe from the theatrical version, which had merged two separate sword fights between MacLeod and Katana into one longer climactic battle. The director’s cut version restores them to two separate battles, although it never shows how or when Connor reacquired his katana.
Producers Panzer and Davis decided to revisit Highlander II once again in 2004. Dubbed the "Special Edition", this cut was nearly identical to the Renegade Version, but with a few alterations. The most obvious change is the introduction of new CGI special effects throughout the film, including a now-blue shield as originally intended, as well as a small piece of voice-over work by Lambert.
Reviewing the 2004 "Special Edition" DVD, David Ryan of DVD Verdict gave it a score of 69 out of 100 and said that "[this] is the best version of this film that [the producers] can make with the material they have on hand. It's still not a particularly good film—but it's infinitely superior to the original version. ... What was once a horrible, horrible film has become downright tolerable, and actually somewhat entertaining at times."
The film was panned by critics, sometimes listed as one of the worst films ever made. Based on 23 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, as of November 2014, the film holds a 0% approval rating. Common criticisms included the lack of motivation for the characters, the new and seemingly incongruent origin for the Immortals, the resurrection of Ramirez, and apparent contradictions in the film's internal logic.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a score of 0.5 stars (out of four), saying: "Highlander II: The Quickening is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I've seen in many a long day—a movie almost awesome in its badness. Wherever science fiction fans gather, in decades and generations to come, this film will be remembered in hushed tones as one of the immortal low points of the genre."
Giving the film a score of 2 out of 10, IGN's review of the film said: "How bad is this movie? Well, imagine if Ed Wood were alive today, and someone gave him a multi-million dollar budget. See his imagination running rampant, bringing in aliens from outer space with immensely powerful firearms, immortals who bring each other back to life by calling out their names, epic duels on flying skateboards, and a blatant disregard for anything logical or previously established—now you are starting to get closer to the vision of Highlander II.
Awarding the film one star out of five, Christopher Null of FilmCritic.com said, "Highlander has become a bit of a joke, and here's where the joke started. ... Incomprehensible doesn't even begin to explain it. This movie is the equivalent of the 'Hey, look over there!' gag. You look, and the guy you wanted to beat up has run away and hid."
David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews gave the film two stars out of four, saying: "It's hard to imagine Highlander II appealing to non-fans of the franchise, as the film barely captures the sense of fun that was so prevalent in the original. With its complicated storyline and dreary visuals, it occasionally feels more perfunctory than anything else—though, to be fair, it's nowhere near as bad as it's been made out to be over the years."