Movie Review: Taken 2
By Matthew Huntley
October 15, 2012
Like Taken, Taken 2 has a few really sharp and original scenes surrounded by one too many ordinary ones. Here is an action series where the creative juices only seem to flow in chunks out of the minds of its writers, Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. The rest of the time, they fall back on painfully traditional chase sequences, hand-to-hand combat scenes and stunts, which, to the audience, function only as time fillers. Perhaps Besson and Kamen, and consequently director Olivier Megaton, figured a little bit of the good stuff goes a long way. Someone should have told them it doesn’t go far enough.
The sharp and original scenes I mentioned involve Kim (Maggie Grace), the daughter of ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson). Kim, you might recall, was the would-be victim in the first film and Bryan, being the expert and multi-skilled agent that he is, rescued her from a group of Albanians seeking to sell and exploit her. Now the tables have turned and Bryan and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), are the kidnapees and Kim must do all she can to help rescue them.
Given this is an action picture, it was a nice twist to see the expectedly scared and weak daughter figure suddenly become a focused and resourceful aid to the hero. Kim climbs onto window ledges; hides quietly in closets; draws intersecting points on maps to pinpoint her parents’ location; detonates grenades in areas so nobody gets hurt; and, when it counts, masterfully drives a five-speed taxi through the narrow streets of Istanbul. Who knew Kim had this in her when she was such a fragile creature the first time around?
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t stick with this refreshing aspect of the premise long enough. It uses Kim only as long as it needs to before Bryan takes over, doing, as he says, what he does best: killing bad guys. That may be what Bryan does best, but it’s not what’s best for the movie’s entertainment value. We’ve simply seen what Bryan does countless times before, so much that it’s gotten to the point where it’s customary.
Taken 2 exhibits more or less the same problem I had with the first film - it provides its mostly formulaic plot with characters who do and say things we don’t normally see (that’s a good thing), but once the plot is set in motion, it’s like the filmmakers, particularly the writers, cease being imaginative and say, “And the rest writes itself - let’s throw in some martial arts, a couple car chases, a race against time and a final shootout. Voila!”
It’s a shame the same energy and innovation surrounding the scenes with Kim didn’t exist throughout the whole film. The setup is about as generic as it gets, with the father (Rade Serbedzija) of the dead Albanians from the first movie declaring revenge on Bryan, who lives in Los Angeles and works occasionally as an independent bodyguard. Bryan is an overprotective and disciplined man who compulsively cleans the outside of his car and shows up at exactly 2:00 p.m. for Kim’s driving lesson (not a minute earlier or later). He’s caught off guard when Lenore tells him Kim has a boyfriend, after which he locates her via the tracking device he had installed on her cell phone.
When Bryan sees that Lenore is having marital troubles, he invites her and Kim to Istanbul since he’s already working a job there. Naturally, the Albanians get a lock on them, kidnap them and…well, I suppose the rest writes itself.
There’s nothing overtly bad or offensive about Taken 2, but like its predecessor, it leaves a lot to be desired if you’re looking for something more consistently exciting and cutting edge. Both movies get us pumped some of the time but ultimately make it too easy for us to guess what’s going to happen next, which takes the fun and tension out of it. And if you’ve seen one car chase on a crowded European street, full of street vendors, innocent people, tight corners, etc., you’ve seen them all.
One thing I noticed with both Taken films is the best scenes always happen around the middle. If there’s a Taken 3 in our future - and judging by the sequel’s anticipated box office return, there will be I say cut out the setup and climax and just make a really good short film out of the center. At least then we can be sitting on the edge of our seats the whole time instead of waiting for the standard stuff at the beginning and end to simply wrap up their routines.