Well, it looks like Liam Neeson still hasn’t recovered from being bitten by the action bug. Recently he’s been seen fighting Albanians, wolves, aliens, fools and now he’s come back full circle to the franchise that kick-started his full-fledged action hero image.
Taken was such a special film, holding strong to a PG-13 rating while delivering heart-pounding action, and the question remained if a sequel was even necessary. Why I even asked that question is beyond me though, because of course studios would revisit the overnight success that was Liam screaming for his daughter and dispatching kidnappers like tiny harmless puppies. It made money, plain and simple, and audiences ate Liam up.
Now here we are again, same main cast, same writers, a different director and a forced story about poor bodyguard Bryan Mills’ vacation being cut short by torture crazed enemies. Liam Neeson returns for Taken‘s ill-fated sequel, Taken 2: Stop Stealing My Family!…but in all honesty, really Taken 2?
Let me clear the record by saying I thought Taken was a pretty solid movie. Not Top 100 Action Movies of All Time good, but stellar enough where I sat on edge watching the typically dramatic Liam Neeson be a straight badass. There was an undeniable aura of surprise and astonishment created from the scenario alone, which I truly believe accounted for half of Taken‘s success, breaking from the typical type-cast stars and over the top delivery. Taken was sleek, compact, tense, and enjoyably effective.
Taken 2 is anything but. Unfortunately for director Olivier Megaton, his film seems clunky with clumsy writing and heavier on silliness than intensity. It fails to cash in on the previous surprise factor and really becomes a laughable watch at points. Sure, the same strong acting was able to give audiences a life-preserver as a means of surviving the ordeal, but Liam couldn’t solely karate chop his way into our hearts this time.
Confusing pacing and ADD inspired shot selection can be found throughout the Colombiana director’s Taken sequel, as in one scene Liam Neeson seemingly either masters time manipulation, or is faster than Usain Bolt on coke. Megaton’s take is much more mainstream action oriented, while Taken appeared delightfully concise by wasting little time.
Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen attempt to up the technical prowess this time around concerning Bryan Mills’ “special skill set,” which are interesting and impressive additions, but forget to explain even the simplest of details somehow. It’s one thing when Liam Neeson’s experienced character is running around incognito under the noses of his villains, but this time around Besson and Kamen inject both Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen into larger roles, Maggie even seeing some moments of action. Grace does fine herself, but the situations our young starlet sees her character Kim pushing the boundaries of overused cinematic clichés, as well as defying serious logic.
Taken 2 is chock full of tired scenarios like “girl hides in closet, henchman is about to open the correct door, henchman gets distracted last-second and leaves the room,” or “girl who doesn’t even have her license can rip around busy city streets in a stick shift car and not kill anyone,” and even “tiny American girl runs around Istanbul creating mass chaos, and doesn’t get caught.”
Maggie Grace is a very adept actress and is able to portray believable emotional responses concerning leftover psychological paranoia from the original Taken, but the action heroine role inherited by playing Bryan Mills’ daughter was poorly crafted.
Liam on the other hand is still dishing out pain in a stylistically crazy way, picking up right where he left off. Taken 2 absolutely brings the hurt yet again, delivering swiftly choreographed action that plays up Neeson’s physically imposing demeanor. Liam can hold his own on-screen, going toe to toe with any number of foes, only furthering his new-found legacy as an action star, but he still can’t avoid getting lost in poor delivery at times.
Yes, I did say Liam is a complete package of soldier, easily destroying wave after wave of Albanian gangsters, but that’s where the problem also dwells. Not once did I feel like Liam’s character was in true danger, never doubting Bryan Mills would complete his quest. Even when captured and outnumbered, the hard-skinned military mastermind never appeared to be in trouble, and the action turned from real and vicious to just a staged play, exchanging moves which lacked intensity and realism.
Visually, yes, it was undeniably pleasing, and Liam entertains, but Taken 2 felt like you were watching Bryan Mills use some type of “Invincibility” cheat code, blowing through cakewalk fight scenes like playing Call of Duty on “Recruit.”
Many are saying “if you enjoy Taken, you’ll have no problem with Taken 2!” Well, I enjoy Taken, I own Taken on DVD, I even watch it every time it’s on TV, and I was still severely disappointed by Bryan Mills’ second adventure. Yet again we have another hotly anticipated sequel to a film that never begged one, cementing the notion that Taken‘s success was indeed dependent on the perfect concoction of ingredients one struggles to recreate, like the inventive partygoer who gets drunk one night and makes the perfect cocktail, but sobers up and disappoints with every attempt at duplication.
Liam and company aren’t the drunk people though, as their performances help carry Megaton’s film. Unfortunately, they are stuck battling ludicrous scenarios that aren’t properly dealt with, not to say Taken isn’t overly ambitious at times as well.
Let me rephrase the above quote. If you love Taken for NOTHING but Neeson’s action chops, chances are you’ll be adamantly indifferent about Taken 2. For the rest of us, it’s the sequel we all saw coming, and unfortunately, with the outcome we also expected.