The general success of the 2014 cult action movie hit John Wick has now led its co-helmsmen (who are also well-accomplished stunt coordinators and second unit directors) David Leitch and Chad Stahelski to secure jobs working on other, big-name franchise installments. Leitch is currently in the midst of pre-production mode on the untitled Deadpool movie sequel, whereas Stahelski is leading the charge on Highlander: the reboot of the cult 1980s-born fantasy/action property that has continuously attempted, but failed to make its out of early development for the past several years now.
While the original 1985 Highlander movie plays out as something of a one-off film – set in a fantasy world where the members of a semi-immortal swordsman clan battle for supremacy, killing one another until only one of them is left – it has since given rise to a franchise that encompasses multiple movie sequels, a TV show (Highlander: The Series) and other installments across multiple mediums (comic books, for instance). Similar to how John Wick introduced a world of assassins and hitmen that is being expanded in a film sequel arriving next month, Stahelski’s vision for Highlander is a reboot that paves the way for a whole new trilogy of movies set in this particular fantasy universe.
That Stahelski and Lionsgate are thinking about a Highlander trilogy (not just a one-off movie) does not come as a surprise; plotting out a franchise around a single film, especially one that’s a revival and/or reboot, is just standard procedure in Hollywood nowadays (see also Lionsgate’s plans for this year’s Power Rangers movie reboot). Nevertheless, Stahelski told Collider that he’s specifically planning out a Highlander trilogy right now, as opposed to a “shared universe”:
“I think the [original Highlander] TV series hit on a lot of great stuff wasn’t in the feature, between the watchers and all the different types of immortals. How do we get this into a feature mode before we dribble it into the TV world? Well, let’s restructure it in parts, let’s look at it like it was a TV show, let’s look at it like it was a high-end trilogy. How to we tell the story of the gathering the quickenings, the immortals and how do we really build this world out even more so than the original project. That’s what we’re restructuring right now. It’s taking all the good stuff that we had before I was involved in the project from the script; redeveloping the script to give us really good chapters one, two and three; and expanding the world.
The vision we’re trying to get across and what we’re trying to develop, I equate very close to Star Wars. The first one us a very satisfying ending but it does leave the door open and that’s kind of how I see this. I would really like to expand it over three. I see the gathering happening over three. It’s tricky don’t get me wrong, that’s why we’re still developing it. We want to be able to tell three complete stories that all kind of fit. I think the Star Wars trilogy, at least up to The Empire Strikes Back, is a good example of how we want to process it.”
The description that Stahelski offers here of his Highlander plans being akin to the structure of the original Star Wars movie trilogy, also brings to mind writer/director Colin Trevorrow’s longtime pitch behind Jurassic World – a film that Trevorrow has maintained was designed to sustain a three-movie narrative arc. While it seems likely that a Jurassic World film trilogy will eventually come to fruition, there have already been casualties of similar efforts to reboot/revive franchises with an eye on kicking off a new trilogy in the process (see the current status of the Terminator franchise post-Terminator Genisys, for example). That being said, if Stahelski proves as effective at world-building on Highlander as he was on John Wick, that will only improve the film’s chances of getting to tell its larger story over the course of a three-part saga.
Speaking of John Wick: the fact that one of the film’s directors is tackling the new Highlander movie brings a certain set of expectations with it, as far as the latter’s rating and action style is concerned. Stahelski, for his part, says that he’s concreting more right now on plotting out how to handle the fighting and close-quarter combat in the Highlander reboot, rather than figuring out just how graphic the violence will (or, rather, should) be:
“Thus far the people in charge of the pocket book and all that, they’ve asked [the rating question] and I said, ‘Look, the way I work, the way we did John Wick, we never set about making a hardcore rated-R action movie, we said we’re going to do this, this is the design we want to do, this is what we feel is fun. If heads coming apart is an R, great. If heads coming apart is a PG, great. Ratings are second to what we’re going to do. Highlander, I think the action is — at least what’s in my head — is going to fall on a line, for sure. We want to design it what we think is aesthetically cool, and so far I’ve met no resistance, they’re like, ‘Look, whatever you did with John Wick with the gun stuff, we want you to try and do with the sword stuff. We want you to make something cool and something unique, and something that’s going to make audiences say ‘Wow, I haven’t seen that before.’”
So I think that’s the road they’re letting me go down and what side of the line it falls on… I certainly don’t want to be gory for gory’s sake, and I don’t want to be clean for clean’s sake. We’re not trying to hit four corners, we want to make great urban myth that goes through time, and we’ll see where that lands.”
Stahelski has demonstrated his proficiency at crafting sophisticated and engaging action several times over by now; not only with his work on John Wick, but also his efforts as stunt coordinator and/or second unit director on many a previous blockbuster (see last year’s Captain America: Civil War, for example). So, regardless of how successful the filmmaker ultimately proves to be in his efforts to create a compelling new vision of the Highlander mythology on the big screen, there’s little reason to doubt that Highlander won’t impress in the swordplay department. It might even manage to put some innovative twists on familiar fantasy action tropes in this respect, bringing to mind John Wick’s own creative “gun-fu” fights and shoot-out sequences.
We’ll bring you more information on the Highlander reboot as it becomes available.