Taken 2 Review By Adam
As it currently stands (on Rotten Tomatoes at least) Taken 2 is the worst reviewed film of Liam Neeson’s illustrious career. I’m not here to tell you that Taken 2 is a masterpiece, but it is nowhere near as bad as its tomato-meter score would suggest — the original Taken is still considered rotten for Christ’s sake. Is it the sequel we wished for? No, but it is passable action entertainment…with two crippling problems. The first is the softening of the brutal violence that gave the original its cathartic kick, and the second is director Olivier Megaton’s (replacing Taken’s Peirre Morel) handling of the film’s action. He over-edits sequences until they are almost unintelligible. Often so much so that he makes the Bourne films look like Downton Abbey.
Set two years after the events of the first film, Taken 2 finds ageing badass Bryan Mills up to his old tricks. He is still wildly overprotective of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) — he ruins Kim’s make-out session with a well-placed GPS — and he is still haunting the hallways of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Luckily for Bryan, his retributive actions in Paris have won him eternal brownie points with the girls, and when he suggests that they holiday with him in Istanbul, they offer little resistance. Unfortunately for the Mills clan, this reunion offers the perfect opportunity for Albanian mafia leader Murhad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedžija) to exact his revenge on Bryan. Vowing to avenge the men that Mills slayed in Paris (including his own son), Hoxha plans on taking all that is dear to Mills.
The first Taken is considered a modern action classic and it is easy to see why. The film took a relatable notion — how far would you go for your family? — and extended it to violent extremes. Despite his age (56!), Liam Neeson proved to be a viable action-star and the film featured extraordinary action scenes. Taken not only had the good sense to generate reprehensible villains — human traffickers — but to also punch them square in the throat.
I won’t even dress it up: violence sells. It’s the reason that people still head out to see the aging Expendables , Stallone knows what his audience wants and he gives it to them by the gallon. This is where Taken 2 monumentally fucks up. This film neuters Bryan Mills. Every time that Mills punched, shot or stabbed someone in Taken, director Peirre Morel went in for the kill. Here, director Olivier Megaton pulls away like some kind of cinematic pacifist. Even worse, he often tries to have his cake and eat it too; he shows the action — the muzzle flash of a gun, the swing of a fist — and then cuts away (to God knows what) to obscure its impact. The first fight in Taken 2 plays like pugilistic algebra: it hurts your brain trying to figure out what the fuck is going on.
While Megaton completely fucks up the action, his setup beforehand isn’t too bad. The idea of the same thing happening to Mills again — à la Die Hard 2 — is pretty ludicrous, so writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen make Taken 2 an extension of the first film’s plot. Some may bemoan its simplicity, but I found something refreshingly retro about Besson and Kamen’s highly functional writing. These two are not trying to reinvent the wheel, they just want to effectively setup the stakes (admittedly, unsubtly) for these characters. And despite the fact that it often gets cornier than a vegetarian’s shit, it works. Much like the first film (badass crowd controlling scene notwithstanding), the action doesn’t kick in Taken 2 until the halfway point. I had little problem with this as I like Neeson’s slightly dorky portrayal of Mills and was enjoying the (obvious) plot framework. By the time the action did kick off, I was reinvested in these characters.
All of the supporting players are solid in this entry. Famke Jensenn’s Lenore is no longer a distant, ice-cold bitch and she successfully conveys the repressed attraction she has for her ex-husband. Maggie Grace’s Kim requires a little more suspension of disbelief. The 29 year-old Grace might be heading into 90210 territory by playing the virginal Kim, but she still looks and sounds like a teenager. The original concept of this film was to make Kim the heroine, but after being shot down by angry fanboys only a fraction of this concept remains. In what might be the most inventive (and ridiculous) sequence in the film, the power balance inverts and Kim has to take charge — let’s just say it involves grenades being lobbed into the streets of Istanbul.
With the exception of a few brief pop-ups, the villains in Taken were an indistinguishable bunch. Here in Taken 2 we see who was leading them. Rade Šerbedžija (aka Boris the Blade from Snatch) brings gravitas to the role of Murhad Hoxha, and his exchanges with Neeson are loaded with intent. Unfortunately, with the softening of the rating comes a reduction in the perversity of the film’s themes and I’m sure that there is a more malicious, ‘rapey’ version of Hoxha on the cutting room floor.
Speaking of cutting room floor, there are some unintentionally hilarious edits in this film. In two of the combat scenes, Neeson’s finishing moves have been whittled down to nothing more than glorified face-palms. The aversion to violent detail makes it appear as though Mills is applying light chiropractic manipulation rather than giving someone an involuntary dirt nap. I’m not sure what has been going on at 20th Century Fox over the last decade but they have got to stop this PG-13 rating bullshit. With very few exceptions they have managed to tarnish almost all of their franchises by softening their rating. People want aliens to explode out of chests, they want John McClane to say ‘fuck’ and they want Bryan Mills to snap necks. The softening of Taken 2 kills this franchise dead in the water. I’m almost positive that a harder cut of this film will surface on home video, but by that stage it is already too late: they have your money for an inferior product.
Completely removed from its predecessor, Taken 2 is a decent action flick with solid (if obvious) plotting and decent acting. It adds up to a film that isn’t necessarily bad, but it is an undeniable disappointment. People expecting a second round of throat-punching genocide should temper their expectations.