At one point in Taken 2, the sequel to 2008’s surprise action hit Taken, the lead character (played by Liam Neeson, age 60) says “Because I’m tired of this”, when asked why he wants to stop fighting. A perfect summary for the movie in general.
The first film was a mix of the brutal fisticuffs of Bourne with the dark unpredictability of Bond. Some quick-cutting chases and fights, some mild torture, and some twists slapped onto a perfectly decent script. It worked, if not brilliantly, in no small part due to star Liam Neeson’s burly acting and growly voice. This second part of the franchise is a step above “cheap cash-in”, resting firmly on “uninspired sequel”. Neeson’s character, Brian Mills, a pastiche of every movie spy that has come before him, with his signature “Listen to me very carefully” line, does great service to an otherwise lackluster outing.
After returning home with his daughter safely in tow from the first movie, Mills tries to settle into semi-retirement in the civilian world. Mills is a former black-ops operative of some sort, his history never fully explained, although he does have a few buddies from the same past life in his barbecue/golf club. For their part, these nameless sidekicks serve as a perfect deus ex machina that allow Mill to access any government operative or database, anywhere, at the drop of a hat. After cutting through hordes of Albanian thugs in the first movie who had kidnapped his child to be used for nefarious purposes, the Albanian godfather learns Mills’ identity and the inevitable revenge quest strikes out.
The first half of the movie is passable and presents some suspense as the Albanians slowly draw the noose around Mills’ throat. The second half devolves into the familiar pat of the modern action flick, offering little in the way of innovation in its fights or chases. The solid fight scenes of Taken are nowhere to be found, with the exception of one rather short brawl towards the end of the film in a Turkish bathhouse. This is a serious problem for an action film – the fights and chases are its bread and butter, and Taken 2 doesn’t particularly excel at either, although I am impressed at Neeson’s spry mobility in spite of his age. I hope I can kick that much ass at 60, even with a bored choreographer.
The one bright spot in Taken 2 is the acting of Neeson and his counterpart, Famke Janssen. Sadly, the script doesn’t take them into any unfamiliar territory or let them stretch their wings, so to speak. In fact, some of the darker, more brutal tactics of Mills from Taken are whitewashed here – gone are the surprise interrogations, the desperate violence against his own friends, the willingness to sacrifice everything to save his family. He has essentially lost the more interesting aspects of his character – he’s no longer channeling Jack Bauer, but a more vanilla MacGuyver or Indiana Jones instead. While the first film wasn’t exactly revolutionary, removing this fundamental trait of Mills makes him even more of a forgettable, cookie-cutter action hero. The mobs of foreign gunmen in his way are little more than speed bumps, none of them offering a real challenge, and the movie as a whole is so in awe of Mills’ skill that it doesn’t want to test him too hard. With no defeats, no real setbacks, Mills has no room to grow, and the audience has no incentive to become invested. Neeson is trying, at least, but it seems that everyone else is not.
Interspersed with the action is some family time with Mills’ ex-wife (Janssen) and his daughter. These scenes feel out-of-place and forced, although there is a bit of chemistry between Neeson and Janssen. While I am certainly not opposed to some feelings in an action flick, there is a time and a place for such things, and Taken 2 offers neither.
In a fall film season brimming with competent action movies that offer both intensity and intellect, I cannot in good faith recommend Taken 2. I suggest you spend your ticket money on more deserving films, and hopefully the franchise is content to die an ignominious death and leave any more sequels by the wayside.
Written by Levi Van Tine