The only thing that hits harder than Bryan Mills, Liam Neeson’s ex-CIA operative turned bodyguard and over-protective father, is the sheer disappointment that a film so similar to Taken could be its antithesis in terms of fun.
The 2008 film became a roaring success as Neeson tore through Paris desperately seeking his daughter, kidnapped by sex slave traders. Once it got going, Taken was a to-the-point slice of gritty action fun that kept the excitement going to its rather abrupt conclusion. It’s amazing to think that that film could be succeeded by such a humourless, dragging ordeal.
Taken 2 is, for the most part, a miserable experience – retracing the events of the first film (this time in Istanbul) with a plodding pace and incoherent action. The less-than-casual racism that fuelled the first film, but suited its topic and its time, is here flamboyant, reeking of Islamophobia. As Mills takes out every male with darker skin than him in sight, his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) jumps in fright at veiled women, and every time the camera sails over one of Istanbul’s magnificent mosques a threatening “BOOMPH” sound echoes on the soundtrack. It’s worse than any of the excesses of Bush-era anti-terrorism romp 24.
Of course, 24’s influence is all over this film. The relationship between Mills and Kim is borrowed almost word-for-word from Jack Bauer’s relationship with his daughter, also Kim. The fact that the main events of Taken 2 take place over the course of one afternoon owes hugely to that TV show’s real-time structure. But even 24 never let its basic character drama slow down the growing threat. Taken 2, by comparison, drags for a considerable fraction of the length of a whole episode of 24 before the “taking” of the title occurs. That first 30 minutes or so is spent redefining the bond between father and daughter and between Mills and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) with dialogue that would make a Michael Bay movie blush. Mills teaches Kim to drive (just in time, she’ll need to be able to later). He flirts with his ex. He growls at Kim’s new boyfriend. For such basic soap opera drama, it’s simply horrifying that it drags on so long.
This time its Mills himself, with his ex-wife, who are taken, but not for very long. Using a phone that looks like it came in a Christmas cracker, he guides his terrified daughter to his rescue, before charging off to save her mother. There’s a bit of hand-to-hand combat, some gunplay and an almost thrilling car chase along the way, but it’s all for very little. Most hysterical is Mills ordering his daughter to detonate grenades so he can hear how far away from him she is. She throws one under a parked car in a secluded area, but camera angles don’t reveal how much medicine for sick people, or actual babies, are on the back seat. It’s preposterous, stupefying and very much the wrong kind of funny.
Neeson, who as a human being has proved himself over the years to be one of the most likeable of people, pleasantly surprised when he first took the role of Bryan Mills; as a middle-aged avenger he wielded handguns, blocked punches and wore a sweeping leather coat like a pro. Here, only four years later, it’s all gone terribly wrong. Perhaps due to age, or due to the manic film style of Luc Besson protégé Olivier Megaton (he of last year’s even ore stupid Colombiana), Mills’s heroics utterly fail to convince here. The action sequences are shot so shakily that it is often difficult to see where anyone is located within the scene, or make out what moves are being performed. The frantic cutting makes The Bourne Ultimatum look like Rope. In one of his final confrontations, Mills is nearly finished off by a sweaty, overweight Albanian in tracksuit pants. It’s hard to cheer for a hero who can take such a beating from a P.E. teacher.
The film’s climax almost feels like something new, but by then it’s hard to care, and you’re more likely to be wondering what the next tune from the Drive soundtrack the film is going to lazily sample.
Taken 2 will of course make oceans of cash, if only off the energy of its forebear. But there’s nowhere more for this series to go, and one only hopes it will, like Bryan Mills, retire, to protect any remaining integrity of those involved in making it. In the long run, Taken 2 may even damage the brand so much that Taken itself will be forgotten – it’s not like Bryan Mills is a very memorable character, and he has perhaps the least iconic action hero name of any film to ever gross more than $100,000,000 at the box office.
Censored infuriatingly to garner a PG-13 rating, there’s no way to even contemplate recommending this film before a DVD/Blu-ray release reveals an uncut version. At the very least the action might appear believable in an extended cut, and, let’s be honest, what else are you watching Taken 2 for?