Liam Neeson’s action-man renaissance in 2008’s “Taken” was a most unheralded critical and box-office hit for a seemingly generic revenge flick. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen managed to captivate audiences with a streamlined story of a retired CIA operative using his skills to locate and rescue his kidnapped daughter. It was a simple concept in that it utilized family bonds as motivation, but it was made exciting through a mixture of intriguing resourcefulness and crafty violence.
Everything about the story of “Taken” was so concrete, that there didn’t seem like any obvious direction for a sequel, but a gross of $226.8 million on a $25-million budget talks, and so we have “Taken 2,” but what Besson and Kamen have come up with this time fails to measure up to the original in almost every way.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone considering, again, no justification existed in the original story for a sequel. Kim (Maggie Grace) couldn’t just get taken again, and part of the intrigue was Mills (Neeson) having to find her despite being hours behind her captors with no idea of where they might take her. In “Taken 2,” it’s not as complicated and the stakes don’t feel nearly as high.
Simply, the Albanians that Mills killed en route to finding his daughter want revenge, so they track him to one of his private security jobs in Istanbul. As it happens, Kim and her mother, Lenore (Famke Janssen), decide to surprise him by flying to meet him there, though to be fair it’s not that obnoxious of a coincidence, as Mills had invited them to come after hearing Lenore’s current husband had canceled their family trip to China.
During their first full day together in Istanbul, Kim gets the idea to let Bryan and Lenore have some alone time in hopes of rekindling their relationship, but when they go into town they are followed by the Albanians, and despite Mills’ best efforts, he and Lenore are taken.
The entire setup here is forced — really forced. It feels as though every single plot point or detail exists solely to create circumstances in which our main characters can get kidnapped, with ample occurrences both inconvenient and convenient to allow for problems and general suspense while also providing enough room for a solution.
We already know what Mills is willing to do for his family, so his motivation is identical to the first film, plus we know he’s too skilled to stay kidnapped for long. What’s required to compensate for not raising the stakes in terms of both motivation and danger is substantially more creativity, and that’s where Besson and Kamen really come up dry.
There’s one scene early on (as in once the film gets going early on) in which Mills uses Kim to help pinpoint his location in the city, instructing her to set off grenades so he can figure out how far away she is by how long it takes for him to hear the blast. It’s just a tease that the film might reach its predecessor’s level, however, as the ingenuity never gets any more exciting than that.
Director Olivier Megaton, a frequent Besson collaborator, takes over for Pierre Morel, and does nothing to help nor hurt the picture. His style is a bit more frenetic as he heavily edits the action sequences to the point where you don’t get more than a second and a half at any one camera angle, but that’s not a problem so much as the film’s failure through and through to prevent the audience’s indifference to what’s going on. We were given plenty of reason to doubt Mills’ success in”Taken,” but this time around we haven’t a shred. There’s a moment in which we think something might take a surprisingly darker turn, but it’s over in a flash.
The script also attempts to be a bit more theme-driven than the first film, whether just because or in effort to compensate for its pointlessness. The father of one of the Albanians Mills killed (the infamous Marco from Tripoja), the “main bad guy” played by Rade Serbedzija, has a few conversations with Mills about taking the lives of family members and when revenge is or isn’t justified. It’s legitimate notion, but a bit out of place; we’re asked to consider the feelings of the random European thugs who we normally see as killing fodder for our action movies. We don’t care if you’re someone’s son — you’re a tattooed meathead who deserves to be offed if for nothing but our amusement.
“Taken 2” isn’t offensively bad, just uninspired and unable to make the case for its existence. At 91 minutes, it’s a harmless exercise in generic action filmmaking aimed at placating the folks who clamored to see more of one man’s particular set of skills, even if they’re the exact same skills applied in a less-than-spectacular manner.
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen