Okay, let’s get this out of the way first: Liam Neeson still kicks ass. With Taken 2, the sixty year old actor turned action star now officially has his John McClane, John Rambo or Jason Bourne with his character, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills. The film focuses on his character, even more so than the original, and it’s the very human side of his character which keeps the film fresh and interesting. Shifting from the first film’s sleazier underworld kidnapping plot, Taken 2 becomes a revenge film where the families of Bryan Mills’ exploits return to hunt him down for killing their sons, brothers and fathers. While the script toys with the relationship between Bryan and his ex-wife (Lenore – Famke Janssen) and daughter (Kim – Maggie Grace), it boils down to standard action plot devices leaving very little for character development or complicated character arcs. What little character work there is in Taken 2 is all fluff, teases between Bryan and Lenore, Kim’s struggle getting her driver’s license, or Bryan’s controlling reaction to Kim’s new boyfriend. Fluff. It also tries an odd moral episode toward the end of the film that is both out of character and disingenuous.
But, the Taken franchise isn’t about warm and fuzzy, is it? It’s about action and Taken 2 is full of the action you expect in a Taken film. It has spectacular car chases, incredible fights and thrilling gun play. It’s about how Bryan Mills will get himself, and his family, out of harm’s way, safely, while taking out as many of the bad guys as thematically possible. With this, Taken 2 delivers. Outside of the bookend Stateside scenes, the film’s location is almost exclusively in Istanbul, which the action takes advantage of by integrating the city’s buildings and cityscape into the action. Much of Maggie Grace’s early scenes are on the city’s rooftops and, once taken (no surprise there), the film uses the locale to illustrate Bryan’s remarkable ability to determine his own location. The car chase scenes zig-zag through the tight streets, the locals diving out of the way for cover. These scenes are far more successful than this year’s The Bourne Legacy chases.
Despite being a decent action movie, Taken 2 is far from perfect. The biggest area the film stumbles in the action is with the fight choreography. Typically filmed in tight quarters, the action is far too close up making keeping track of who is hitting who and where Bryan is in all the chaos a little difficult. But, the scenes are quick, fast and furious – exhilarating. These scenes work far more successfully when they concentrate on Neeson sneaking up on his unsuspecting opponents, guns drawn, brow furled, eyes determined. The build up to the fights are as interesting as their execution. It’s all about Neeson and his character, there is no match on the kidnapper’s side, only numbers.
Liam Neeson is a one-of-a-kind action star. He’s a total bad ass but yet not too far removed from the everyman, even at his age. He continues his exploration of “Neeson the action stud” with great success. His character in Taken 2 has charm and warmth yet is convincingly threatening and unquestionably capable of the heroic acts he performs in the film. He balances brawn and brains to overwhelm and outmatch his opponents. In the first film, it was the contrast to the hardened CIA operative versus the softer family man: which will win out, the calculating spy or the loving father and which will end up saving his daughter. This film continues that dichotomy; but, unfortunately, has very little to add to the character in this respect. The overall success of Taken 2 suffers because it doesn’t do enough with Neeson’s Bryan Mills. It relies too heavily on the first film and how the character was established in that film. It is to Neeson’s credit that the film works in any way because the film’s enjoyment is mostly due to his presence and charisma.
Returning alongside Neeson is Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace as Bryan Mills’ ex-wife and daughter. The dynamics are basically the same with Janssen getting a larger role as she is now the victim kidnapped in Taken 2. Her Lenore portrays a reserved attraction to her ex-husband, but it holds little interest. It’s a no-brainer kind of conflict toward resolving their relationship, and the script has her role follow the stereotypical loving ex without any surprises or twists. While she does the best she can, the script leaves the audience wanting more from her character – to fight back, to be a little more resilient. Her best scene is when she finally stands up to her kidnappers even if it is a stereotypical response. Maggie Grace gets a much more involved role this go around. In Taken 2, her character is more a Robin to Neeson’s Batman. She follows his lead and gets to drive fast cars, throw hand grenades around and race across the roof tops of Istanbul. It’s a stronger role, and performance, than her character in the first film.
Olivier Megaton, who directed 2011′s Colombiana and 2008′s Transporter 3, displays the same style in the action and an increasing lack of character development. Once the film moves to Istanbul, the film is attractively shot and staged smartly integrating the streets and population of the city into the story. He handles the gun play and action with the intensity the film needs. The chase scenes are fast and thrilling and the combat makes an impact and is appropriately violent without going too far. However, the hand to hand scenes are shot far too close and quickly cut, it is difficult to keep track of what is happening. Everything is a bit of a blur with the film relying on the soundtrack for being responsible for presenting the blows. Megaton relegates most of the character bits to the wrapping story set in the States where the biggest conflicts are whether Kim will get her driver’s license or if Bryan will dislike her new boyfriend. In that respect the film takes the lazy way out.
Taken 2 is a natural and action-packed extension to the original. In some ways it is the perfect sequel. The second film could not happen without the events of the first but, outside of this dependency, Taken 2 is also a fairly well self contained story. The film succeeds in what it is expected to accomplish: having Bryan Mills return to kick ass once again, using his brains to outsmart his kidnappers and his fists to beat them senseless. The film is yet another example of Liam Neeson the aging action star, charismatic, intelligent and convincing. The film relies too heavily on its action sacrificing character development. In respect to its action, the film is a blast and the film is smart in how the hero finds his way out of each increasingly dangerous dilemma. It’s too bad the script couldn’t be as grand mix of intelligence and action as the lead character.