The first Taken film was a surprise hit back in 2008, building up enough good word-of-mouth in its European release to warrant a successful run in the US some months later. Taken 2, on the other hand, bows with a simultaneous worldwide release that reeks of cash grab: get in, get out, and forget about Taken 3, ‘cause the good word-of-mouth ain’t coming this time around.
Yup, it’s a joke. After the brutal, action-packed original, I was stunned to be confronted by what appears to be a (possibly unintentional) parody. Toned-down (in order to receive a PG-13 rating stateside) and dumbed down, with incoherent action scenes and a nonsensical plot, Taken 2 is a huge disappointment that lacks everything that made the first film fun.
The setup is a real gem. Remember all those nameless extras that Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) disposed of during the previous movie? Well, their families aren’t too happy: they want revenge, and the Mills family is their target. This is the equivalent of the family of Guerilla #4 coming back to haunt John Matrix in Commando 2. It’s a joke premise, but the filmmakers seem to be taking it (at least half-) seriously.
One problem: you wouldn’t expect these family members to pose much of a threat, and while they inexplicably seem to control the Turkish police force, they don’t give Mills much of a problem. The leader (Rade Šerbedžija) doesn’t put up any fight, and the big climatic action scene features Mills and a random fat guy in a tracksuit, who seems to be proficient at hand-to-hand combat but looks ridiculous while doing it.
I’m getting ahead of myself. In Istanbul, the baddies nab Mills and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Jansen), and chain them up while searching for daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Mills has a hidden phone in his sock, but instead of using it to call the police or the US Embassy or INTERPOL, he calls up Kim for some DIY day-saving.
To pinpoint his location, Mills has his daughter throw a grenade out the window to help him estimate how far away he is based on the sound of the explosion. Soon, Kim is running down rooftops and blindly tossing grenades in the center of Istanbul, to help her father get a vague sense of his location. Seems logical.
At a certain point, you quit attempting to follow the ridiculous plot mechanics of a film like this, and let the action scenes provide some mindless fun.
Unfortunately, this is where Taken 2 really drops the ball: there’s a focus on the wrong kind of action (car chases), the violence is toned down so much that we often don’t know if or when a character has died (during the climax, Mills apparently kills two men by gently pushing them against objects), and there’s a general incompetence surrounding the staging and execution of the action scenes.
Taken 2 was directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Colombiana), who may have the name of an action director but lacks the finesse; the action scenes here are shot and edited with zero coherency, giving us the vague sense of action but little idea of what, exactly, is going on. The workmanlike competency of Pierre Morel, director of the first film, is sorely missed.
With its (intentional or not) jokey tone, Taken 2 might deliver some laughs but completely fails to satisfy those craving Liam Neeson in tough guy mode, something that the original really exploited. Thankfully, another 2012 film delivered this in spades: Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, which pitted the star against a pack of Alaskan wolves. Now there are some villains that can pose a legitimate threat.