dir. Olivier Megaton
Release Date: Oct 05, 12
It takes about 30 seconds of Taken 2 to realize that something has gone wrong, something that wasn’t so obvious in the sleeper success that was the first installment. It’s during the hyperkinetic opening montage, in which director Olivier Megaton (delightful name, questionable skillset) attempts to generate pathos for the Eastern European terrorists that were largely killed with elbows during the previous film, during a rapidly-edited montage that has no concept of how to tell a quickly-moving story without inducing whiplash. For all of the villainous Murad’s (Rade Sherdebergia) tears regarding his lost son, many will still be disinterested in the plight of Albanian men who’ve established a cottage industry out of abducting young female tourists and selling them into sex slavery. Over the next 90 minutes, Taken 2 continues to disappoint in this fashion, plumbing the depths of a story that was originally beautiful in its simplicity for the sake of a workmanlike expansion that feels totally unnecessary, save for all the money it’s likely about to generate.
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has returned to the relatively quiet life of high-end private security work after he rescued his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from being sold into sex slavery in the first film. Still in touch with Kim, and far more familiar than before with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), Bryan takes off for Istanbul to do some bodyguard work, inviting his family to meet him once he’s done. Therein lies the first of numerous logic holes that Taken 2 will demand that you accept: after one of the most arduous, frightening scenarios a doting father could possibly imagine, his actually asking/allowing his family to visit him abroad seems nothing short of foolhardy. This may seem like a nitpick, but Taken 2 practically begs such questions. No matter how preposterous the first installment may have been, it followed a fairly consistent internal logic that allowed for a lot of Neeson murdering half of France with his bare hands and very little in the way of lazy, overcooked exposition.
Taken 2, by contrast, is a film largely composed of extraneous plot devices. The film takes far too long to get moving, accentuating Bryan’s rekindling of flames with Lenore and his time abroad, instead of focusing on what audiences want to see, which is Neeson riffing on Daniel Craig’s grittier James Bond as an overprotective father pushed to extremes and proficient in every currently known means of committing murder. Even when the film finally builds momentum, Bryan eventually enlists Kim’s help, which is to the film’s detriment; given a meatier role this time around, Grace fails to rise to the challenge, coming up short in her attempts to generate any kind of interest in her story and saddled with a terribly paid-off subplot involving her inability to pass a driver’s test. Much like the rest of the film, her scenes give off the distinct impression of wheel-spinning, and only induce anticipation for Neeson’s eventual reign of terror over a new foreign locale.
The innate xenophobia of the Taken franchise aside, the first film was lean and mean, wasting little time with hackneyed attempts at emotional resonance and focusing on the surprisingly hard-hitting violence. By contrast, the second installment is phoned in on virtually every account. Except for one sequence, in which Bryan directs Kim to his holding area using a series of grenades and patently absurd navigational commands, nothing that happens onscreen conveys any stakes, or a sense of risk. Sure, there are car chases and snapped necks aplenty, but the film boasts the dully thudding cadence of a hackwork action film designed to cash in on a star or franchise name. Compared to, say, the boat raid at the end of the first film, nothing in Taken 2 lingers as distinctive. Even Neeson, who previously delivered an instant-classic monologue (“I don’t know who you are…” and so on), is clearly going through the motions, forced to play the immediately grating note of overprotective dad while trying to come off as convincing when he’s once again an instrument of death halfway into the movie. Taken 2 will likely induce reactions akin to a teenager who’s broken household rules: People won’t be mad, they’ll just be very disappointed.