– Summary –
Director : Olivier Megaton
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Šerbedzija, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, DB Sweeny, Luke Grimes, Kevork Malikyan.
Approx Running Time : 91 Minutes
Synopsis: Bryan Mills must once more fight against the Albanian terrorists he fought in the first film; this time, they’re coming for him and his family, out for revenge for the deaths of their sons.
What we think : Insipid, lackluster sequel to the ripping original hopefully puts yet another nail in the coffin of the career of one Olivier Megaton, a director which such incalculable skill at taking solid and intriguing concepts and completely f@cking them up. Taken 2 deviates from the original by being a revenge film instead of a pursuit film, and this change to the central premise kills the momentum of the story once Neeson gains the upper hand on the kidnappers. Neeson is solid with an overly unwieldy script for a film of this kind, Maggie Grace shows some decent action chops – but not much else – and Famke Janssen might as well have phoned in her performance to collect the paycheck for all the good she does here. Taken 2 is light-weight, poorly edited, badly written sequel which trashes the memory of the first film and obliterates all the goodwill we had towards Neeson’s rising action-hero status.
No doubt Taken 3 will be about Neeson’s dog going missing.
This review is, inevitably, a comparison between what goes incredibly right, and what has managed to go so horribly, badly wrong. Comparisons between films in a franchise are inevitable, and often cathartic for a reviewer to write, especially if, as is the case here, the sequel to a really good first film is something of a let-down. Actually, to say Taken 2 is a let-down is giving Olivier Megaton’s film too much leeway. The film’s a debacle, a complete mishmash of action beats interspersed with some Istanbul-based postcard framing and Maggie Grace hurling across the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar (in what, its fifth consecutive action film appearance?) in her bikini. The complete lack of originality, coupled with what appears to be a thorough disinterest in any of the cast for being in this shemozzle, and Megaton’s derivative, incoherent direction leaves Taken 2 less a sequel and more just a rehash of the far superior original. So how did this initially terrific franchise suddenly plummet to the bottom of the pile – is it more to do with the writing, the direction, the casting, or some combination of both?
Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) is now rehabilitating his relationship with his estranged wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) while remaining a security operative around the globe – one of his jobs takes him to Istanbul, where he invites Lenore (who is having issues with her current husband) and Kim for a holiday. Unbeknownst to them all, the relatives of the Albanian kidnappers Mills killed in the first film, have decided to come a-hunting for Mills and his family; they are led by Albanian Mafia don Murad (Rade Šerbedzija) , father to original Taken villain Marko (Mills left him to die of electrocution in a chair hidden in the back-alleys of Paris) who swears that Mills will be killed on the ground of Tropojë for what he has done to his family and community. Tracking Mills and his family to Istanbul, Murad and his henchmen kidnap Brian and Lenore, and just manage to let Kim slip through their fingers: Brian realizes who he is up against and the race to escape and take revenge on those seeking revenge on him is on.
Liam Neeson’s first meaty action lead role, in Taken, was a bruising, bustling, terrific thriller that elevated the Irish star’s credibility as an action star into the A-list. Subsequent action outings have left that once-bright potential in ruins, and Taken 2 does nothing but grind that reputation into the dust and blow it away with a zephyr. As a film, it beggars credibility that the same guys who wrote the original came back and this was all they had to go on. Luc Besson, and Robert Mark Kamen, delivered a breathless, fat-free pursuit film in Taken, giving Neeson a bountiful harvest of Bad Guy Henchmen to shoot, stab, blow up, run-over and generally eviscerate to get his kidnapped daughter back. Taken 2 doubles back on the original premise by making itself a revenge film; this is counter-intuitive to the entertaining premise of the first film, in that it stops being simply a race to protect, but a chase for revenge, and the two ideologies somehow seem to miss their mark in this movie.
The story isn’t very complicated. Brian’s family is targeted by the very people he killed in the first film. Straight away, Mills isn’t on the back foot in this film, he’s on the reactive foot. This isn’t about a father trying to rescue his daughter – a largely sympathetic narrative hook – but a father seeking revenge on those who sought to kill him and his family in revenge of their own. Mills becomes vengeful, rather than purposeful. While I appreciate the sequel trying to go in a different direction, Taken 2’s rather simplistic script doesn’t allow us the opportunity to really follow Mills into this sense of righteous rage; it becomes a “how dare they?” routine right quick, and this undermines the audience’s built-in sympathy for Neeson’s character. As a script, Taken 2 barely gets off the ground. Characters seem devoid of believability, there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between Mills and Lenore, while Maggie Grace suffers under some of the most gargantuan plot development black-holes in a modern action films… possibly ever. Instead of the weeping, wimpish, teenage girl Kim Mills is in the original film, she traverses this trait to driving dervish in about three minutes of Neeson’s “C’mon Kimmy” screeching as they race a stolen taxi through the alleys of Istanbul. The thing about Taken was its sense of impending danger and countdown-tense deadline story; Taken 2 doesn’t have that, so it becomes a derivative, by-the-number run-and-gun affair, and as we’ve learned with Transporter 3 and Colombiana, Megaton can’t direct action to save his life.
Olivier Megaton, besides having an oafish, self-indulgent name which provokes cries of derision when he gets things wrong (which, based on his track record, is more often than not!) lacks the directorial intellect to direct a decent action film. Megaton’s camera whirls around each scene, edited like a threshing machine and creating a headache-inducing effect, much like a strobe light in a dark room. His action sequences have a distinct lack of respect for the viewing audience, most of whom won’t have a clue what is going on thanks to jittery, frenetic camerawork and editorial epilepsy. Central to the film’s action moments is the aforementioned taxi chase sequence through Istanbul, with Maggie Grace “trying” to drive like Jason Bourne, while Neeson barks instructions and exchanges gunfire with their pursuers in the passenger seat. It’s a crazy mix of Paul Greengrass’s work in The Bourne Supremacy, and Megaton’s own gob-smackingly bad work on Transporter 3’s marketplace chase sequence; the end result is nothing short of discombobulating incoherence. I couldn’t work out who was shooting at who, which car was which and hell I think I burst a blood vessel trying to type that sentence without falling asleep at the very memory of the scene.
Taken 2’s roster of casting reads like a who’s who of tokenistic Eurotrash Bad Guy clones, none of whom bring any real menace to proceedings – although it must be said that nobody does Euro-crazy like Rade Šerbedzija; the man is loopy like a fox, although he’s criminally underused and wasted as a central villain to Neeson’s Mills – and the film’s sputtering, limp-wristed cop-out of a conclusion puts paid to Šerbedzija’s return in any sequel, while at the same time making his threats and posturing during the film’s opening half unfulfilled. Both Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen look bored by having to appear in this movie, and you get the sense that they barely put even half their heart and soul into it. Maggie Grace, who does try hard but never manages to raise either a smile or grimace at her “acting” like a teenager, finds her character written out of the grand finale almost for the sake of keeping things simple for the audience. After going through so much, and achieving so much under the tutelage of her father in tracking Brian and Lenore down (using a grenade or two, no less), and she’s told to go hang out at the US Embassy down the road? Contrivance aside, Besson and Kamen, you should have given us a lot more to round out Kim’s story.
Mills, whether by design or accident, is given little in the way of a real challenge. He circumvents the Bad Guy’s kidnapping all too soon, he manages to take down the entire gang of goons with an ease even the first film makes look too easy, and his near-superhuman skills at tracking and detective work make him a hero so unbeatable, mere thugs with guns pose no threat whatsoever. At least in Taken, Mills could be hurt, or nearly killed. Here, it appears that he can’t be killed by virtue of some misguided sense of honor, and it robs the crucial tension needed to make this film at least “thrilling” in some way. Mills’ fight scene with one of Murad’s leading henchmen begins almost like the Steven Segal/Tommy Lee Jones knife fight in Under Siege, but ends up like any episode of MacGyver. Dammit, Megaton can’t even get that right! Megaton, or perhaps screenwriters Kamen and Besson, can’t seem to generate any tension for Mills to fight through whatsoever: paraphrasing Doctor Evil, Taken 2 feels like the Diet Coke of the action film genre. It’s an action film without much.. you know, action. Certainly not enough to get the blood pumping.
Perhaps most distastefully, the film just… ends. There’s no big build-up, no significant last-gasp obstacle for Mills to overcome, nor is there any sense of real, genuine resolution about the Brian/Lenore relationship which has bubbled away nicely during the first half of the movie. The finale scene between Neeson and Šerbedzija seems designed purely to set up another sequel, and that’s it. It’s like Besson and Kamen just gave up writing after 100 pages and went to get a coffee, leaving the film with a bizarre unfinished quality about it that doesn’t sit right with me. Taken 2 was an opportunity wasted, definitely. It could have been bigger, badder and more intense than the first film (even if the scenario would have had to smack something of a Die Hard-esque “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice” feel) but instead, it’s content to whimper, wail and thrash unconvincingly in the shadows of better, brighter, badder action films. Watch it only if you have no socks to fold or grass to mow, and even then, do so with the warning that’s is a completely unfulfilling movie experience which is best left sitting on the shelf. Hopefully, this might spell the faster end to Olivier Megaton’s directing career. One can only hope.