A sequel to the 2008 hit, Taken 2 is a significant step down from its surprisingly captivating predecessor. Even the trademark intensity of a returning Liam Neeson cannot save this woefully pedestrian affair. In all the ways that the original succeeded, Taken 2 fails – revealing a script and director awash in a sea of rudimentary action clichés that are all build and no payoff. Oliver Megaton rises to the likes of Pitof and John Nichol (born to parents Gwen and Bill McG) to take his place amongst the pantheon of terrible directors with made-up names.
Speaking only of the superior unrated edition, the first Taken took a very straightforward concept and executed it brilliantly. Right off the bat, the stakes are readily apparent. Bryan Mills’ daughter was kidnapped in Europe. An ex-CIA field operative, Mills uses his experience to beat a fast-dwindling 72 hour clock and secure his daughter’s safety. An hour and a half of dead bad guys and eminently quotable badassery later and we roll credits. Simple, effective, great.
Everything that raised Taken above the typical action schlock is missing here – to the point where it feels as if Oliver Megaton (Transporter 3) might not have seen Taken. Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen return once again to write the script, but it’s a lifeless mess. That Oliver Megaton and his writers don’t even see fit to give Mills another of his “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills” moments tells you how unhip they were to what made the original a satisfying, bloodlusty experience.
The setup is at least effective, even if everything that follows is an exercise in spinning bald tires. Kim (Maggie Grace) is trying to move on with her life even as father remains a domineeringly overprotective figure. When Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) sees her marriage fall apart he invites ex and daughter to accompany him in Istanbul after he wraps up a job. Their vacation is cut short when Albanian mobster Murad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedžija) kidnaps Bryan and Lenore in retribution for Bryan’s trail of dead baddies in the first film, one of whom happened to be a guy Bryan tortured and electrocuted.
So far so good. And it’s even entertaining seeing the onus fall to Kim scramble to find her father. There’s a cute device where Kim will throw a grenade and Bryan tries to hear it so they can pinpoint his location and get a gun in his hands. There was a lot of eye-rolling in my theatre, but map grenades are a concept I can fully embrace. Kim walking around town with a map would have been ass. Kim throwing grenades on rooftops with reckless abandon is at least a worthy distraction to keep you entertained while the script goes off the rails.
Everything that happens beyond that point is a videogame – a really shitty one. Happening mostly in real time, Taken 2 is a one act film that sees Lenore moved from location to location while Bryan arrives, kills everyone, rescues her and then says “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” That Lennie is barely conscious in these moments is beside the point, Bryan never gets wise that leaving his dying ex-wife alone for another bad guy to scoop her up is perhaps poor form. I counted at least three instances where Bryan rescues this poor post-menopausal woman only to ditch her at the last second. “Yes Mario, the Princess is in this castle but… hey, look that way for a second!”
Oliver Megaton films his action competently, it’s every other decision he makes that’s suspect. The stakes are considerably lesser here for a few reasons. First, we know from the first film that Bryan’s an unstoppable force of Voorhees-esque proportions. This sequel does nothing to put that notion into jeopardy, killing any suspense in the process. Second, it’s hard to care about Lennie the way we did Kim. Maggie Grace being sold into sex-slavery is far more interesting than Famke Janssen being in this warehouse, now that warehouse, wait, she’s in a van now. And the fact that all of this transpires over the course of 6-8 hours diffuses the impact even more. Mills doesn’t need to investigate or torture or find an opportunity to say some really medieval shit – he just needs to be a good aim for a few hours.
I appreciate this film attempting to integrate a big bad into the proceedings. And Rade Šerbedžija is more than adequate as the evil doppelganger of the Dos Equis Guy, out to avenge the death of his son at the hands of Mills. But even he gets lost in the menagerie of a boring script. You could make the argument that he has legitimate beef with Mills, which should conceivably make for a provocative showdown. But then you remember the director calls himself Megaton and you quickly reassess your expectations.
I’ll revisit Taken 2 when the unrated version comes to home video, if only because I have no idea what happens at the very end. This movie was cut to shit, no more apparent than when a guy dies from getting gingerly shoved into a wall. I think he might have been impaled on a towel rack, but I might also be trying to fill in the blanks myself. This is a film with a lot of blanks.
With Transporter 3 and now Taken 2, Oliver Megaton continues making a convincing case that he should never direct again. This is a lifeless, paper-thin affair that has none of what makes the original the fun little actioner it is. Producer Besson would have been wise to work Pierre Morel back into the director’s chair here, as Morrel clearly knew how to bring out the best in both his performers and Besson’s material. Instead, Taken 2‘s particular lack of skills makes it a nightmare for viewers like you.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars