I loved the first “Taken.” It’s probably my favorite straight-up action film of the last ten years – and that includes the entire “Bourne” franchise. Liam Neeson’s desperate rampage to save his daughter from evil human traffickers, while hyper-violent and arguably xenophobic, was a kinetic blast of pure adrenaline. I own the extended-edition DVD and have probably seen it at least 10-12 times. Naturally, I was thrilled to hear that a sequel – with the same cast – was in the works. This movie was pretty much review-proof for me…no matter what the critics said, I’d be there opening night. And I dutifully was.
Picking up two years after the first “Taken,” Bryan Mills (Neeson) seems to have built a relatively normal relationship with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Of course he’s a little too protective of Kim – naturally, given the events of film #1 – but that’s to be expected. Through a series of implausible events (which I’m willing to accept for the sake of the plot) the three end up in Istanbul, where they quickly encounter the family members of the Albanian traffickers Mills murdered in the last movie.
It’s very reminiscent of its predecessor…to the point where it occasionally feels more like a remake than a sequel. Entire snippets of dialogue are reused (I’ve seen the first one enough times that I can recognize when they’re cutting-and-pasting the script), and the gimmick this time is merely a slight inversion of the original premise: here, Mills and Lenore get “taken,” and must rely on Kim to help rescue them.
Admittedly, this often becomes immensely entertaining. There’s a memorable scene involving Kim, shoelaces and grenades that will likely spawn a host of memes. It’s gleefully over-the-top action that’s far more fun to watch than Bourne’s latest outing, and a subsequent father/daughter car chase simply continues the thrills.
That highlights another strength of “Taken 2”: its characters. Neeson and Grace (and even Janssen, though to a lesser extent) are remarkably charismatic leads, and watching the interactions between them is a pleasure. All told, they make up one of the most likable groups of protagonists I’ve seen in any movie recently…and that’s a big plus in this genre.
But overall, “Taken 2” lacks the je ne sais quoi that made the first film an international smash.
For starters, the villains here are several steps down. The last movie dealt with human traffickers – evil people, certainly describable as “scum of the earth.” Watching Mills annihilate trafficker after trafficker was an exercise in visceral catharsis, and at the same time forced the viewer to confront a stark moral question: if your child was kidnapped by people like this, how far would you go to save him/her? Furthermore, the real-world horrors of human trafficking formed a stomach-churning backdrop for the movie, leaving moviegoers with the sickening realization that monsters do actually exist.
None of that subtext enters into play here. This time around, the villains are sad, bitter, faceless foreigners. They are completely devoid of personality or individual identity, and come off as people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without a fundamentally moral core, the spectacle of Liam Neeson beating down hordes of murderous enemies starts to wear thin.
Plot-wise, “Taken 2” also runs into plenty of problems. The first film’s storyline was ruthlessly linear: “Kim is being taken from Point A to Point B. Attempt to intercept the traffickers and rescue her. Repeat. Raise the body count. Repeat again.” It’s not exactly Oscar-winning material, but it made for an awesome action movie.
In “Taken 2,” viewers are treated to a meandering plot that never builds into a pulse-pounding conclusion. Even the climactic fight sequence – Mills scouring an enemy-infested apartment building in search of Lenore – starts to feel a little pedestrian…and it’s because the sense of righteous urgency that propelled the first movie is completely lacking. The compelling theme of the first – “estranged father rescues wayward daughter from deviant subhuman predators” – gives way to clichéd action-film tropes.
Finally, the action – the original movie’s greatest strength – has been toned down, to this reviewer’s frustration. Many of the more intense sound effects (bones snapping, etc.) have been eliminated entirely, resulting in a weirdly sanitized product. Extreme use of fast-cuts renders some sequences unintelligible, to the point where some fights are stripped of their intensity. Yes, the first film was violent…but that’s what made it such a thrilling experience. The excited-yet-nervous sentiment voiced frequently by fans of the first movie – “I think I could do that to save my daughter!” – won’t be brought up here. “Taken 2” just never raises that question.
(Naturally, there are no worldview elements to speak of. This isn’t that kind of movie.)
Is it worth watching?
As an standalone product, it’s a botched cash-grab that feels rather like a direct-to-video release. As a sequel to “Taken,” it’s subpar. That being said, it’s not without its own brand of charm…and with suitably limited expectations, it’s enjoyable entertainment. Just expect nothing particularly new or groundbreaking – and you won’t miss much by waiting for the DVD.
A sequel that starts out fairly strong, but ends with a whimper. Disappointing.
Normalized Score: 1.0