In 2008, Taken was released and was a surprise hit, grossing millions and millions of dollars at the box office and received relatively good reviews from critics. I quite liked it. It was a simple revenge thriller which had Liam Neeson tracking down some people who kidnapped his movie-daughter, played by Maggie Grace. It had some family bonding, it touched on issues such as human trafficking, and it delivered thrilling and competent action that moved at a quick pace and didn’t linger — Taken played for just over 90 minutes.
It was no surprise that Taken got a sequel. What is a bit of shock is that it took four years for such a sequel to come to fruition. Perhaps the rather lengthy wait was so that some of us would forget many of the scenes and plot points of the first film, meaning that they could be reused in the sequel. Taken 2 feels a lot like the original, containing the same basic premise, a bare minimum amount of plot, and enough thrills to get by. Taken 2 isn’t a bad film, and on the whole I enjoyed it, but it’s not original and I don’t recommend watching Taken right before it, as you’re likely to get bored.
The film once again stars Liam Neeson, playing a retired CIA operative named Bryan Mills. His daughter, Kim (Grace), and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), are the other good characters who matter. The only villain with any more than a couple of lines of dialogue is a man named Murad (Rade Serbedzija). He’s the antagonist, and the father of the main villain in the first film. He’s now the one wanting revenge, after having to bury not only his son, but also a dozen or so unnamed henchmen, all of whom were brutally killed by Mr. Mills in the first Taken.
Isn’t it nice to see mention be made to the dozens of people who died in the earlier movie? That doesn’t happen much in film; the unnamed characters don’t even get a second glance after the hero takes them out. Here, the whole point of the villain’s evil scheme is to make the protagonist pay for the actions he performed — and we rooted for — in the first film.
Anyway, Mills and his ex-wife are eventually captured, while Kim is left in an Istanbul hotel, all alone, and with people chasing her. From here, the film is a collection of fist-fights, chases, and shootouts. And family bonding, which is almost more entertaining than all of the action I just mentioned. In a different world, there would be a drama made about a paranoid ex-CIA agent, an ex-wife whose new husband is a dirtbag, and a teenager finding her way in the world while dealing with both of these influences. Maybe Taken 3 will explore these elements in more detail.
What you want is more of the dumb action of the first Taken. That is mostly what you get here. There’s nothing extra this time around — the human trafficking made for an interesting subplot in the first film; there isn’t an equivalent in Taken 2 — there’s just good, old-fashioned action. Or, new-fashioned action, as most of the action scenes are chopped into so many shots that you’ll sometimes have a hard time going on. Thanks, Bourne.
I don’t remember that being an issue in Taken, although perhaps time has made a fool of me, and I’ve just forgotten because of the overall impression I have in my head of that movie. It’s particularly noticeable in this one during the hand-to-hand combat scenes, where we get a cut every time a character makes a move. Combine that with the shaky-cam and many different angles, and it’s tough to remain completely aware of exactly who’s doing what to whom. It’s not incoherent, but it’s more difficult to follow than it should be.
There are several improbable but immensely fascinating scenes in Taken 2. One involves a telephone conversation in which Bryan instructs Kim on how to locate him. It involves a map, string, and grenades. Bryan must have been the best CIA operative ever, if these movies are any indication. He’s impervious to damage, incredibly intelligent, has great hearing, and even at an advanced age, can move around better than most. How did the CIA allow him to retire and live a normal life?
If nothing else, the film remains watchable at all times because of this character and the charm that Liam Neeson has in the leading role. It’s nice to see an older actor take an action film like this one seriously — especially with how silly it all actually is — and he can certainly handle himself in the action scenes. Or, I’m sure he would if we ever saw him do anything during these sequences. These films are not about the villains or the rest of the family; it’s about Liam Neeson outsmarting and beating up evil foreigners.
Is Taken 2 as good as the original? No. Is it still pretty fun because it has lots of action and Liam Neeson? Of course it is. It’s the type of film you can watch without thinking very hard, and it will surely entertain for 90 minutes as long as you haven’t seen the first one recently, as it’s pretty much just more of the same. And, as long as Neeson is still game, I’d be totally okay with another one. Let’s explore more about this family next time, though.