Here is more of the same from French action film filmmaker and producer Luc Besson. This second installment of the Liam Neeson as over protective dad Bryan Mills, once again hell bent on saving his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), is directed by Olivier Megaton who did the pretty decent Columbiana (2011). Besson produced this slightly better-than B movie just as he did Columbiana and nearly a hundred other films (where he also serves as writer). His stamp on action films these days is remarkably ubiquitous even though Taken 2 and many of the other films he’s produced are a long way from his directed films La Femme Nikita (1990), The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997). Still, Taken 2 stars Neeson who I like to say can turn any pile of trash into gold (or his scenes at least, judging from massive job before him in Battleship). And so it is he’s back again for the sequel to Taken only he’s working extra hard to keep his daughter, and his ex-wife Lenny (Famke Janssen), out of trouble.
The Story: The father of a slain kidnapper in Taken (2008) —the guy Mills discovers via voice recording, the words “Good luck,” who he then proceeds to electrocute—that dude’s father played by every film’s bad man, Rade Serbedzija (The Saint (1997), X-Men: First Class (2011)), seeks revenge on Mills and his family for the death of his son. Taken 2 begins almost exactly where the first film left off as the men Mills killed while on the war path to save his daughter are buried in the village they came from.
The Goods: Neeson's character Mills is a smart guy, obviously, from experience working special forces and CIA, or at the very least from saving his daughter in the last film. He knows how to use all his senses to solve deadly dilemmas—hearing the sounds of Istanbul side streets and counting the kilometers, or something slightly shorter, while blindfolded—as he’s taken by revenge seeking “soldiers.” We get an exotic location just as we did the first film, as Mills completes a paid job in Istanbul. His ex-wife has a fall-out with her current husband and seems to be running back to Mills (as smart as he is you have to wonder why he’d consider asking her to come to Istanbul). Kim, his daughter, goes with her and so the setting is ripe for the taking.
The way Mills talks, the direct, no-nonsense, calm, patient, experience in his voice directions he gives are his superhero talents in addition to nearly MacGyver’ing his way out of dangerous, life-threatening situations. A nifty way to get his daughter in on his part of the job while also keeping her safe is this film’s best part.
The Flaws: But Taken 2’s set-up is really too ripe for the taking in the sense Mills seems too innocent, too blindsided by his ex-wife’s marital issues. It’s a weakness in the script and the action we’ve come to expect is delayed at least thirty minutes…or what feels like a very thirty twenty, while getting set-up in his wife’s world. Expectations are high going into this film based on the almost cult following the first film has and how successful the film does on cable and on Sunday matinee TV that is 75% advertising.
There’s a contradiction in attention to detail that is troublesome especially in the film’s third act. A scene with Kim driving through Istanbul being chased by blood-thirsty thugs, with dad in the passenger seat (and Kim failing her driving tests in the States) is a Ronin-like (1998) high speed, cobblestone race that has the film’s editor cutting in close-ups of Kim’s wide, startled eyes at nearly every near pedestrian miss or cop car she hits. That same suspense-building attention to detail is ignored in other more vital moments in the film leaving key conflict scenes between Mills and the bad guys as anticlimactic as a Jurrasic Park sequel.
I use Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) as an example of detail before death. When Gregory Peck gains his memory he remembers a traumatic moment in his life when he pushed his brother onto pointed fence railings, killing him instantly. Hitchcock’s revealing of the spike-like fence top in close-up, right before the brother dies, camera rolling toward the deathly impalement to heighten the suspense, is exactly what Taken 2's anti-climactic death scenes lack. Leaving us with a slightly impoverished version of a Taken film than what we were expecting.
The Call: Stow the dough. Taken 2 wouldn’t be a bad add to your Netflix queue or for a Redbox night but cable TV is more likely where Taken 2 belongs.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality. Running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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