Directed By: Olivier Megaton
Written By: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
Sometimes things just don’t work on a second attempt. Like a joke you tell your friends that hits so perfectly on first try. When you try it again on a new group it just doesn’t elicit the same response. The set up and joke are exactly the same, but the context and timing are slightly off making it completely miss the mark. Such is the case with Taken 2. The film has many of the same elements that made the first Taken such a success, but it falls flat with poor direction and insipid performances. Taken 2 is too uninspired to challenge the concepts that came before, and unable to recapture any of the veracious action that made the first film great. Taken is a movie that doesn’t need a sequel, and this does nothing to discount that fact.
In the film Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the retired CIA agent with a special set of skills. Currently he is still trying to play a larger part in his daughter’s life, but his compulsive personality and tendency to worry is causing a connection to be nearly impossible. Maggie Grace is back as the formerly kidnapped Kim who is still attempting to live a normal life again. She gets a lot more screen time this time around, and frankly that was a wrong choice to make. Her performance is rather graining, and does nothing but lag the film down. Much of the same can be said for Famke Janssen who returns as Bryan former wife Lenore. Their relationship is on better footing after he nearly punched, stabbed, and/or shot half of Paris in his attempt to find their daughter. Lenore begins to confide in Mills and this rekindling of their relationship leads him to invite both of them on his business trip to Istanbul so their daughter can see what tourism is like when you are not a part of organized sex trafficking. Unfortunately good attentions turn sour when the vindictive Albanians show up in an attempt to claim revenge for all the men Mills killed and tortured back in Paris four years ago.
Obviously the premise is simple and solely there to give Liam Neeson a reason to punch things, which is completely understandable with this type of film. What was surprising was the lackluster action we were given. Director Oliver Megaton has proven with his two former films Colombiana and Transporter 3 that he is incapable of properly shooting action. This is just more evidence to prove that fact. I am a proponent for ‘shaky cam’ when used properly, but Megaton confirms that the technique is like a loaded gun in the hands of a toddler. One false move and no one walks away happy. He injects a colossal onslaught of edits and a never ending array of camera angles in every action beat. This didn’t make the action feel kinetic it made it feel baffling and incoherent. It’s impossible to tell where one kick to the shin begins and where one headbutt to the groin ends. Part of what made the first Taken great was the brutal nature in which the action was shot. You felt ever blow as the camera unrelentingly stayed with the violence. This felt like they originally designed it for an ‘R’ rating, but then changed their minds afterwards causing them to hack and slash the footage to the point of confusion. Moments seem to end abruptly making you question how long you just blinked. Sure there are some car chases and shootouts that can get the blood pumping, but those moments were few and far between.
What was also surprising was how lifeless Nesson felt at times. During the more serious moments he surely sold the grimness of the situation far better than the script did. I also appreciated how they caused him to use the limited resources he had available and his skills from training to get out of some sticky situations. Such was the case when he was retracing his steps to find those pesky Albanians. It was a creative sequence that was rather effective. However when it came to the action Nesson appeared uninterested and apathetic. There were moments where we saw the Neeson we remember, but at other times he really showed his age. That may have been a purposeful choice, but if that was the case it was not very evident. If the hands making the filmwere more capable they would have taken advantage of the presence Neeson effortlessly gives you. The perfect example of this is when it attempts to reconstruct the ‘phone call’ sequence that was largely responsible for the success of the franchise. Neeson again sells it perfectly. The issue is the moment is forced causing it to have little to no impact. You expect it to be the pulling of the pin that ignites the grenade of action, but that pin gets pushed back in time and time again. Part of what worked so well in Taken was how once the kidnapping happens you are solely with Neeson’s character till the final moments. We only knew what he knew causing this underlying mystery to perpetuate the overall tension. Not knowing what was happening allowed your mind to wonder to what could be the fate of his daughter. This tried to piece everything together to give it more of a personal reverence, but that personal touch just gave you a story that was obvious.
The fear of the unknown is the worst fear of all, and that fear was absent in Taken 2. You were told everything verbatim so you never questioned how things were going to play out. Having an underdeveloped plot would not have been an issue if the action was fun and exciting, however it was chaotic and lackluster. Never was urgency established to create any sort of tension. Believability was pushed to the limit with no reward to accompany it. There was little ridiculous fun to be had, and what was there was hurt by undisciplined direction. Taken 2 has all the same components of the first film with none of the talent, execution, or desire to make a quality product. While Taken was a pleasant surprise Taken 2 is an expected dud.