Going into a Luc Besson film (whether he produced it, directed it, or in this case penned it) you’ll likely find two distinct elements: kick ass action and memorable/likable characters. It’s easily evidenced looking back at his earlier works like The Fifth Element, Leon, Wasabi, The Transporter and Taken. But after a surprise hit actioner like Pierre Morel’s Taken, to try and top that, even with Besson on board, Olivier Megaton has a tough act to follow. Yet all the hope in the world couldn’t make this anticipated follow up/supposedly white hot revenge thriller more than a hollow luke warm sequel. It’s like Bryan Mills or rather Liam Neeson is there in spirit but the flesh is weak…and so’s the script. It also doesn’t do much to encourage Americans to travel to Europe either.
Taken 2 is just what you’d expect it to be; Taken part deux…as in redo and not many films can pull off a complete retread. Films like Ghostbusters II and The Hangover II come to mind as properties that hoped to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Well unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way for Megaton and company as it’s basically second verse, same as the first, but a little bit slower and a lot less memorable. The story rightly continues as Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and family (Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen) have adjusted to the traumatic events of the first film and try to get along with their lives. Bryan rightly keeps a close eye on his daughter but the new development is that Lenore, his x-wife, is single (well separated). Watch out people, the credits haven’t even stopped and conveniences are coming down like rain. This tale is familiar, leaves little mystery and is just kind of, well, boring.
Like a fighter who has lost a few steps Taken 2 offers less of the pull no punches, man on fire revenge story that made Taken so bad ass and memorable. This sequel is laughable at times and not in the good way. As the driving force, it is Liam Neeson that everyone wants to see; whoop some baddies and save his family, roll credits. Well Liam isn’t the one man army we saw 4 years ago. For whatever reason Liam is less convincing.
Maybe it’s his age, maybe it’s Megaton’s style of filmmaking but this slower version of the film we saw before the last election tries too hard to be something it’s not. With quick cuts, close angle shots and shaky everything, these decisions were either done stylistically on purpose to hide choreography issues, weak plotting or perhaps Megaton just saw The Bourne Trilogy too many times. Frantic foot and car chases, indiscernible fight scenes cam and fly overs that would make Michel Bay sick, Taken 2 attempts to give, via editing mostly, the adrenaline that was lacking in front of the camera.
One new element in this familiar formula is that this is a revenge story, in part, from the villain’s point of view. Though expected, it was a good idea, yet fails because we aren’t given a real intimidating antagonist. Poor, poor Rade Serbedzija. He’s a fan favorite character actor yet he never gets anything of any real substance (The Saint and Snatch not withstanding). On paper he’s a great choice and to some degree he work but it’s just not nearly the product he should have been. For the level or underwhelming suspense and line reading it would have been better to get some unknown or lesser recognized foreign actor. If a hero is only as good as his villain then these two nearly cancel each other out like dance partners with two left feet. More face time with Janssen and Grace also seemed like a fine idea but they, capable actors both, just prove to be inconsequential.
Yet part of all these story gripes fall back on, laugh if you will, realism. Realism not in the abilities of the characters but more their motivations. Regardless of training, few people would be able to prove as simultaneously ruthless or efficient if faced with the events of the first film. Bryan is capable but his daughter and Rade’s character Murad just don’t fit into this pseudo spy world which actually makes Bryan look that much more superhuman. With two family members potentially in trouble maybe he now has to play it cooler and reign in his bull-in-a-china-shop instincts. But while Bryan is the draw, too much attention is thrust on his daughter who isn’t as capable. At one point Bryan claims that he’s “tired of it all” and for a man doing this dance a second time, playing chess games in his head and using his lethal combat skills he’s doubly worn out. That probably explains the slower pace of the film which is oddly evidenced by looking at the posters for the two films. Taken – Bryan is stone-cold focused and taken, er taking action. Taken 2 – Bryan is just taking a breather.
One element that has been overlooked for the second time is Bryan’s little retired spy gang. Seeing them early on is a nice tie back to their presence in the first film but how about giving them more of a part if this sequel is already giving more attention to secondary characters? In Taken 2 Bryan does need help, and quite a bit of it, so why not put his A team to work for more than convenience of plot advancement and comic relief? They would be more helpful than his daughter who is having a very unbelievable trial by fire in the form of Operation: Rescue Dad. The film shows Bryan as a vulnerable character. No complaints there but possibly some of this was because Liam just couldn’t handle the sequences. That would explain a lot of shaky cam footage and the closely cropped fight scenes (notice there’s nothing in the way of kicks). A departure from the last film, now we see Bryan use his head not just hands which is a nice touch. Possibly drawing from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films, we see Bryan’s thought process and how he assessed each situation. But one good bit doesn’t make up for what it essentially a lazy and half ass retaliatory revenge flick…and let’s not even get started on the lack-luster ending or Kim’s unnecessary and forced boyfriend.
Taken 2 had the opportunity to be the bigger badder and more outlandish sequel we’ve come to expect. All the pieces were there but as this film was busy suffering from a Bourne Identity crisis we got too much of the same with little originality and wasted opportunities for the cast and supporting characters. Insult to injury was the sloppy editing, bad writing and waaay too many conveniences. Like what you ask? Here’s just a few. Bryan’s ex-wife is now separated from her uber rich husband, Bryan just happens to be finishing a job close to the kidnappers, Bryan is never searched by his captors. Bryan just happens to have time to tell his family what they need to know to survive and they are to, under immense stress mind you, able to comprehend and retain it all. Sure you are supposed to suspend disbelief (an old Besson standby) and swallow all of the implausible bits if the ride was worth it or story was fulfilling. Regrettably, Taken 2 offers neither. It’s true, Bryan Mills does have a very particular set of skills…and unfortunately based on the story and direction, they make for only one good Taken movie.