Die Hard had a smart villain. Skyfall had one. So did GoldenEye. TWOK. I think you can have a toned-down yet still well-drawn villain in a film and it would still be effective.
The Kurgan worked for the first movie, yes. The problem is, they kept going back to him again and again. The pilot of the series had a guy named Slan who was nothing but the Kurgan redux. And all Highlander movie villains have been riffs on him in one way or another.