There is a reason why Taken 2 already stood a challenge of being a good movie. In 2008, the first taken arrived in theaters and became a smash hit for a very simple reason: Liam Neeson turned his genteel persona on its head. He became a determined father who would take down anyone in his way, when it came to getting his kidnapped daughter back. The film was not exactly original, but the confidence and tenacity seen in a respected man like Neeson made for an action film that could be taken a bit more seriously. Cut to 2012, Neeson has since become an action star at this point in his career and while revisiting Taken may seem like an obvious idea, it also does not lead down many more roads that haven’t been traveled already. It doesn’t help that the film’s choppy direction robs the action sequences or more delight, but the confidence of Neeson is not enough to give this film a pass either.
Bryan Mills: Listen to me carefully Kim. Your mother is going to be taken and people are gonna come for you too.
Set two years after the events in the first film, Taken 2 is about revenge. Former CIA Agent Bryan Mills tore through the streets of Paris looking for his kidnapped daughter and ended up taking out a whole sex trafficking ring, operated by some Albanian bad guys. Those bad guys of course had loved ones and now they want Bryan’s head. Rade Serbedzija plays the chief of the Albanian Mafia and he sets up an elaborate plan to kidnap Bryan and his family, who are all vacationing in Istanbul (not Constantinople). Bryan (Liam Neeson) is able to catch on quickly enough to give his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), just enough instruction to hopefully avoid capture, but not before he and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are taken themselves. With so much taking going on, Bryan will once again have to utilize his very particular set of skills in order to stop those involved in all the ‘takening.’
It would be a stretch to say that I love Taken, but I certainly find it to be a lot of fun, given what it is. Writer/producer Luc Besson has made a career out of these Euro-action-thrillers, first making his mark with his own films like La Femme Nakita and Leon, only to simply come up with ideas (on a napkin, I presume) and hand them off to his protégés, which has resulted in films like The Transporter. The first time around, director Pierre Morel, who also made the awesome District B13, was on hand to deliver a really solid action movie, which worked due to Neeson, of course, but also great pacing (once the main plot got moving) and a strong sense of action, which was hectic, but effective. This time around, Besson has handed off directing duties to Olivier Megaton, who may have the best French name ever, but is also one of weaker guys in Besson’s stable of filmmakers (he previously made Columbiana and the disappointing Transporter 3). As a result, while the film is certainly a sequel chooses to go bigger and badder, the action follows suit in a more literal sense.
I am completely fine with suspending belief and rolling with some of things that happen in Taken 2, unfortunately, whether or not it is due to disjointed editing in order to get by with a PG-13 in the US, until the inevitable “Unrated Director’s Cut” comes out on Blu-ray, the film is a mess to try and follow. The action is incredibly choppy and attempts to hit upon the up-close and gritty trend, but not in an effective way. Some of this is more obviously due to cuts to avoid blood and certain shots of Bryan killing people too brutally, but it still also feels like the clarity would not be much better in its full form. I have mentioned before that a sense of geography in action sequences goes a long way for me. There are certainly locations utilized in Taken 2, which become key places to recognize, but there are a lot of sections that just have no real fluidity to what is going on. An extended car chase is one of the best examples, as it lacks any semblance of a series of streets that connect.
Another problem is the stop-and-go pacing. Both Taken and its sequel had similar extended setups, before they really get going with the action, but at least Taken relied on forward momentum, after Neeson arrived in Paris. Taken 2 does not achieve this as effectively. While it is somewhat nice to see the villain’s perspective and also find more for other characters to do, a film like Taken 2 does not seem to benefit much from screen time that is spent away from Neeson. To their credit as father and daughter, Neeson and Grace do have a strong enough bond in the film (and I’ve had plenty of humorous ideas that support why it’s fitting that Grace in no way looks like the girl in high school that she is supposed to be playing), but do I really need to invest in Neeson possibly getting back with his ex-wife? Yes, it is nice to know the people we root for, but with Janssen serving as an unconscious victim for most of the movie, I could have done with some tightening up in the pace.
There is not much of a point to spend time talking about things that do not make sense, regarding the film’s logic, because that just defeats a lot of the purpose, but I can say that the film was quite hilarious at times. This is mainly due to how assured Neeson is in the film. Make no mistake, he is quite solid and the only thing that holds the film somewhat together, but you can’t help but chuckle at how serious all of these characters are in the midst of the chaos that is happening in Istanbul (not Constantinople). The highlight of the film easily revolves around Bryan instructing Kim on how to find him, using an assortment of items that range from, “Hey, that’s pretty clever,” to “Gee-wiz, did I bring enough grenades?” but it works because of how committed both are to the scene. The other benefit of course comes from bad guys being beaten up by Neeson in painful and elaborate ways, but again, the direction interferes with a lot of these shots.
Taken 2 gets a little credit for not simply being a re-hash of the first; instead playing much more like the fourth and fifth acts of the same story seen in the first film. I can also say it is very much a father-daughter movie, for whatever that is worth. Neeson still drives the film with his level-headed steeliness being put to task when faced against ridiculous action situations, but the audience is not getting the same surprise from seeing him in action this time around. When we do get the action, it is unfortunately too choppy and incomprehensible at times to make it more fun. Taken was made for a relatively low cost and made five times that amount back. Taken 2 tripled the budget, but lacks the same innovativeness that made the first a smash. As a result, Neeson’s claim in the film to be, “tired of it all,” just seems too true.
Bryan Mills: When a dog has a bone, it’s best not to try and take it from him