After the mindless, insanely entertaining, bare-knuckled and relentless action thriller Taken became a surprise worldwide sensation, much of it thanks to breathless action scenes and the embodiment of pure, divine gusto that is Liam Neeson, a sequel was all but inevitable. There wasn’t a fear that it would fall victim to the “More of the Same” syndrome, because that was exactly what we wanted. Neeson was emphatically back on board, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen go with him this time, you know, to raise the stakes, and this time, it’s The Neeson who gets Taken. Bam-Bam-Bam! This can’t possibly fail.
Except it all goes wrong. So, so wrong.
Taken 2, like the first one, is that sort of film that can pretty much only go two ways. Fucking Epic or Completely Awful. The first one was a lock for Fucking Epic purely on the strength of its outrageousness. But the promise of something even more -hell, even just a continuation- of that proves to be Taken 2′s downfall.
Bryan Mills, everyone’s favourite dad right now, is reconnecting with his daughter, Kim, and estranged wife, Lenore, after saving Kim’s life in Paris a couple of years before. He invites the pair of them to Istanbul, where he goes out with each one, has a fantastic time, and gets promptly kidnapped by none other than the father of the Albanian crime leader he so mercilessly tortured and killed in Paris. And this father wants every bit of revenge he can get, so he also kidnaps Lenore and does his absolute best to get Kim as well.
And after that build-up, which is a tad too slow, it never actually takes off. At all. Aside from one absolutely bonkers awesome plot element, Trigonometry By Hand Grenades, and a claustrophobic car chase, both led by Grace’s Kim, the action feels disappointingly dull. There is nothing original in Taken, that’s true, but at least it has that relentless momentum and weight so many actioners fail completely to execute. Here, the action is simply Yet Another Action Film. The fights are cut too rapidly, without the sense of rhythm and kinetics of the first film. The criminals, now in a place of much more power than Mills’ unexpecting victims in Paris, fail completely to exude any kind of menace. And the climax is a resounding disappointment, both in technical execution and performances.
Granted, there are a handful of “ooof, that’s brutal”-moments in the film, but they are too few and far between in a situation lacking so sorely in excitement or character investment. Of course we know how things will end, but the audience does expect a minimum amount of perceived doubt at some point. Not happening here.
Liam Neeson at his worst is still better than a whole lot of pretenders out there. But a quote from himself late in the film perhaps describes it best: “I’m tired of this.” He looks ragged and lumbering, compared to his unstoppable juggernaut from the first film, and that’s not aided by the sore lack of resistance he faces. In fact, it’s Maggie Grace who comes away as the brightest point, as she holds her action scenes with vigor and gives her just enough plausibility in the other scenes for the viewers not to notice the lack of crunching popcorn around them.
Finally, as the UK cinema version is rated 12A (that’s PG-13 for you Amurricans), there is a palpable sense of cutting. Where scenes or shots lead up to a bloody climax, there’s a sudden cutaway, more than once and more than five times. It does lead one to assume that somewhere, in an editing room far, far away, is a much more brutal and a whole lot better version of this film waiting for a special edition. But we can’t judge that version without seeing it. Besides, you don’t go to see a Taken film for the tidiness of the action, just like you don’t go to sloppy burger joint for the wholesomeness of the meal.
Final Verdict: Taken 2 is a disappointing case not of More of The Same, but Less of The Same. It’s not fast enough (even at a lean 85 minutes). It’s not brutal enough. And it sure as hell isn’t outrageous enough.