In 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson starred as the seemingly indestructible Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative whose daughter was snatched by Albanian gangsters while on holiday in Paris. Vowing to “Tear the Eiffel Tower down” if he had to, Mills set about shooting, stabbing and torturing his way across the city of romance.
Taken 2 is set a year later, and deals with the consequences of the first film’s bloody rampage. On a hillside in Albania, a funeral’s taking place for the people Mills slaughtered back in France. One of them is Murad (Rade Serbedzija), the father of a luckless goon who Mills had electrocuted in a Paris basement. “The man who has brought us such pain and suffering,” seethes Murad, “we’ll find him. We will have our revenge.”
Over in Los Angeles, life’s returned to relative normality for Bryan Mills. He enjoys waxing his car, flirting with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), and still has a creepily keen interest in the day-to-day teen antics of his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).
Bryan’s CIA training and obsession with small details comes in extremely handy, however, when he arranges an impromptu holiday to Istanbul. There, Murad’s gang plan to kidnap the Mills family and do terrible things to them, and only Bryan’s lightning reflexes and homing pigeon-like sense of direction will save them.
Returning writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen appear to have their tongues tucked in their cheeks for Taken 2. Mills’ survival and combat abilities are almost superhuman here, and some moments of dialogue run headlong into self-parody. “Your mother and I are going to be… taken,” Mills says in one titter-inducing scene, and it’s a wonder how Neeson resisted the urge to wink at the camera after he uttered it.
For the first 45 minutes, this sense of the absurd keeps Taken 2 afloat. As Bryan, Kim and Lenore run, drive and fight to avoid the clutches of the gangsters (with varying degrees of success), the pace remains brisk, the dialogue deliciously fruity. At one point, Mills leans over to his wife and issues her with a rapid and incredibly lengthy set of instructions, which goes something like, “Go to the back of that shop. Turn left, then go straight. Then go right. You’ll see a red corridor. Go down the corridor, and turn right. There’s a set of steps…”
Somewhere in the second half, director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Colombiana) gradually allows the tension to dissipate, like air escaping from a punctured tyre. The initially engaging action, which includes a chase that looks like the classic videogame Crazy Taxi, and a hilarious deployment of hand grenades, gradually gives way to grinding repetition.
Various neck-snapping sound effects appear to have been removed in the quest for a lower certification (something its 12A rating bears out), blunting the close-quarters action, and leaving some sequences looking as though Neeson’s simply hugging his victims to death (a power Neeson may actually possess).
The major problem lies in Kamen and Besson’s story. Its refusal to invest the bad guys with even a shred of character is a mistake, since we’ve no particular reason to fear them; they’re an identikit band of bestubbled men in dishevelled clothing, and look so similar to one another that they might even be played by the same two stunt men in every scene.
Worse still, they die too easily. The first film established Mills as a kind of middle-aged Übermensch, and he continues to tower physically and psychologically over everyone here. Rather than scale up the sense of threat, as you’d expect from a sequel, Taken 2 simply ships in another group of rather dim cannon fodder – moving targets who are often killed while watching television.
Taken was livened up considerably by Neeson’s charismatic performance, and he’s similarly effective in the sequel. It’s a relief, too, to see Maggie Grace given a bit more to do this time around, even if she is a bit too old to be playing a teenager. Famke Janssen, on the other hand, is sorely underused, and spends much of the film fading in and out of consciousness as the narrative requires.
Lacking in surprises or suspense, Taken 2 merely rehashes sequences from the first film to diminished effect. The decision to relocate the action from Paris to Istanbul reads more like an attempt to hide how similar the two films are than introduce an unusual cultural backdrop, and if anything, the rather unpleasant streak of xenophobia present in Taken is even more pronounced in the sequel.
“I’m sick of all this”, Mills sighs in one late scene, as though even he’s feeling the effects of the second half’s lethargy. Sadly, it’s difficult not to agree with him.
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