Liam Neeson is back as retired CIA Operative, Bryan Mills in Taken 2. In 2008, director Pierre Morel, working from a Luc Besson script, helped cement the actor’s credibility as a go-to action star with the original Taken. Unlike his heroic adventures in franchise films like Star Wars: Episode 1 and Batman Begins, Taken put Neeson front and center in a storyline that would succeed or fail based on the actor’s ability to remain likable and engaging – while his character ruthlessly killed and/or tortured a steady stream of bad guys. A smart story, paired with Neeson’s charm and Mills’ unrelenting brutality proved to be a winning combination for audiences.
Can director Olivier Megaton capture the same balance of thrilling action and engaging character drama – dispelling concerns that Taken 2 is an unnecessary sequel attempting to extend an already thin set-up?
Unfortunately, Taken 2 is mostly an empty retread that, despite some high-octane action scenes, fails to live up to the successes of its predecessor in every single way. The story is less engaging, character dynamics are less believable, and (worst of all) action set-pieces are less thrilling. Where as the original allowed for a steadily unfolding mystery, Taken 2 features a dizzying back and forth mishmash of story beats that fail to deliver a satisfying climax – and rely heavily on “flashy” moments that lack any real substance. That said, the film isn’t a total misfire and despite underwhelming connections to the original, action fans who merely want to see Neeson snap necks and crash cars will likely find the Taken sequel to be a competent thriller.
Taken 2 builds directly on the story from Taken – forcing a face to face confrontation between Mills and the fathers/brothers of the countless Albanian human traffickers that he killed in the first franchise outing. After his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife Lennie (Famke Janssen) are abandoned by Lennie’s husband, Stuart (Xander Berkeley in the original film), Mills plans for the pair to meet him in Istanbul – after he completes a high-paying security job. However, when Kim and Lennie arrive, Murad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedžija), Chief of the Albanian Mafia, uses the family vacation as an opportunity for revenge – kidnapping Mills and his loved ones.
As mentioned, instead of progressing the Bryan Mills story and character forward – Taken 2 actually undercuts the nuances of the original film and turns the lethal family man into somewhat of a cliche this round, evidenced by nearly every scene he shares with Kim and Lennie before the abduction. This isn’t to say that Neeson doesn’t deliver or that Mills is no longer likable but, instead of showing audiences a continuation of the unique family dynamic established in Taken, Taken 2 repackages the characters into a “tidier” set of circumstances – to sell Mills’ heightened desperation this round.
Similarly, instead of upping the ante, forcing Mills to save both his daughter and Lennie creates more narrative hurdles than it succeeds in paying off. The result is a disjointed narrative ride that moves characters around haphazardly – causing a lot of physical backtracking and, as indicated earlier, a climax that falls short of excitement established in earlier scenes (as well as leaves one precarious thread dangling). In an effort to expand the stakes and the scope of the film, Megaton undermines one of the fundamental strengths that audiences responded to in the original – that, through sheer will, training, and drive, Mills succeeded in finding his way from point A to B to C. This time, while the character rushes around creating and putting out fires, a number of the plot points are actually remedied by convenience and chance.
The expanded roles for both Grace and Janssen offer little in the moment to moment enjoyment of the film – as the larger family story is often melodramatic and relies heavily on familiar platitudes. Viewers who thought Grace was too old in 2008 to be playing a naive teenager will have an especially difficult time rectifying her personal story this round (now that the actress is 29) – i.e. driving lessons and her first serious boyfriend. The initial introduction of her arc has promise (as she attempts to remember “being normal”) and some of the Mills/Kim action sequences add a fresh dynamic to the “one man army” approach of the first movie but, considering all the screen time dedicated to Kim, most audiences will quickly tire of the film’s attempt to utilize Grace – since watching Neeson is significantly more interesting. Janssen’s Lennie is even less compelling – with little to do but serve as the film’s living macguffin.
As mentioned, despite failing to hit the bar set in the original, and downright undercutting some of the more interesting character and story dynamics, Taken 2 does include its fair share of slick action. An alleyway care chase is easily a standout sequence as is a lengthy fist fight between Neeson and one of the primary antagonists. In these moments, Taken 2 manages to lock into some of the Taken magic – presenting the audience with memorable onscreen action. Still, while Neeson is convincing in his choreographed scenes, the fistfights are harder to enjoy this time – since Megaton chose to employ a lot of shaky cam and second-to-second action cuts. Ultimately, few of the film’s fight shots last longer than a second – delivering a pretty choppy experience even during the better set pieces.
Taken 2 is by no means a bad film. However, in an attempt to cash in on a successful standalone movie, the filmmakers have stretched the straightforward Taken premise and delivered an entirely unnecessary sequel. Action lovers may find enough to like in Taken 2 but, for moviegoers expecting a smart continuation on par with the original Taken, the sequel is dominated by eye-rolling character moments, disjointed plot lines, and mostly underwhelming onscreen action. As a result, it’s unlikely that moviegoers will be quite as Taken by the experience this time.
If you’re still on the fence about Taken 2, check out the trailer below:
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out the Taken 2 episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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Taken 2 is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality. Now playing in theaters.