Pierre Morel’s 2009 hit Taken was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise on several levels. It turned the 56-year-old Liam Neeson into a legitimate action star, it re-framed the idea of January being a dumping ground for Hollywood leftovers and best of all, it was damn entertaining in its ridiculous simplicity. Its box office take guaranteed a sequel, but what should have been a sure thing was instead kneecapped by co-writer/franchise-creator Luc Besson‘s decision to hand the reins to the awesomely named but otherwise utterly incompetent Olivier Megaton.
In the sequel, ex-CIA agent and current bodyguard Bryan Mills (Neeson) finally has the relationship with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) that he’s so desperately craved. An upcoming protection gig in Istanbul seems like the ideal locale for a “family” vacation so the ladies surprise Mills after his assignment for some Turkish R&R.
But they’re not the only members of the surprise committee.
Bearded Albanians skilled in the art of human trafficking and ruckus-causing arrive seeking revenge for the thugs Mills killed three years ago. Luckily for Mills, the gang, as led by eternal bad guy Rade Serbedzija, is more interested in keeping the family alive then making them dead. The lesson here is that when you’re after revenge simpler is always better.
The same can’t always be said for filmmaking though.
The simple setup of the first Taken, Mill’s daughter is kidnapped and he uses his particular set of skills to save her, worked thanks to some aggressively kinetic fight scenes and chases, some smart writing and Neeson’s unstoppable momentum. Taken 2 lacks all three of these things.
Most of the action consists of gun play, but there are several hand to hand fights and some car chase shenanigans. Both though are nearly incomprehensible thanks to tight, jarring and jumbled editing. It’s near impossible to tell who’s doing what in Mills’ first brawl, and there’s only two people involved. The car chase is no better.
So if the action in an action film is worthless what else is there? You can cross script and acting off the list of possibilities.
Besson and frequent collaborator Robert Mark Kamen (The Fifth Element, The Transporter) have delivered a script that takes the most basic path to conflict to achieve its tale of revenge. Family members of nameless characters who shared mere minutes of screen time in the first film? An entire second act that sees Mills incarcerated and Junior Agent Kim racing to save the day? A tiny footprint that keeps all of the action contained in a few block’s worth of similar-looking streets and rooftops?
And while the level of acting is rarely the first thing you think of when watching action films it’s painful watching the three leads at work here. Grace was the weakest link in the first film as the 25-year-old struggled to play 17(ish), and while her character apparently failed to age for the sequel her acting kept pace. Janssen’s performance is as limited in screen time as it is in skill, and Neeson seems content reciting lines as if he was killing time on the commode. D.B. Sweeney emotes better than all three, and he’s only onscreen for thirty seconds.
Taken 2 is as disappointing as sequels come. The law of diminishing returns dictates that sequels will decrease in IQ and effort even as they grow in size and content, but Megaton instead drops the ball across the board. Inept action scenes, lazy scriptwriting and complete disinterest by all involved contribute toward the argument that in Hollywood’s eyes at least, October may just be the new January.
The Upside: Will give you a new appreciation for Pierre Morel and Louis Leterrier
The Downside: Feels short, small scale and very slight; fights and stunt-work are half-assed and edited in a blender; Maggie Grace’s bad acting from the first film spreads to Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen this time; not a single memorable scene or line of dialogue
On the Side: Director Olivier Megaton also killed the Transporter franchise