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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
It’s hard to believe that a short four years ago one might have drawn a mixture of skepticism and suspicion for suggesting that Liam Neeson, he of Schindler’s List, Kinsey, and Michael Collins critical acclaim and fame, could ever be the number worldwide action hero. True, Neeson has played in a Star Wars movie and a couple of Batman flicks, but Neeson, prior to about 2009, was primarily known and celebrated for his cerebral, passionate portrayals of real life historical figures. After the runaway success of Taken in early 2009, however, Neeson has primarily, rightly or wrongly, been tapped as an action star, and roles in films like Unknown, The Grey, and now Taken 2 have solidified that perception. Neeson may go down in history for being the most unlikely film bad ass of all time, and I am more than ok with that. Neeson’s latest collaboration with Luc Besson, Taken 2, is the definition of a no-nonsense sequel; we don’t dispense with the niceties in Taken 2. This may ultimately be the film’s greatest strength, and perhaps its greatest weakness as well.
In Taken 2, Bryan Mills (Neeson) is back. After a brief working vacation in Istanbul, Bryan is surprised by the sudden arrival of his daughter Kim (a likable Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, in a bit of a thankless role), who join him for a few days of relaxation and sight-seeing. Lenore is going through a divorce, and Kim is struggling as well, balancing a few items in her personal life. When Bryan and Lenore are suddenly abducted by the Albanian mafia (in retaliation for the events of the first film), Kim must help rescue her father and mother, and Bryan must get back to doing what he’s best at. Yes, the plot is paper thin and the movie itself isn’t terribly deep, but I don’t really care. Taken 2 knows exactly what it wants to do and sets out to do it with gusto. Nick noted in his review that it takes a good half hour or so for the action to get going. Once things do get moving, they move at the speed of light, and like the first film, Taken 2 rarely lets up when the action is on.
The biggest criticism levied against Taken 2 is that it is derivative of the first film. So what? Viewing this movie is hardly mandatory. Taken 2 is for fans like me who want exactly more of what the first movie offered. In many ways, Taken 2 is far different in style from the original anyway. The big change here is in director. Olivier Megaton takes over for Pierre Morel, and Megaton’s style is far different. There are scenes in the film that move with a frenetic pace, particularly the scenes of Bryan, handcuffed and hooded in a van, counting to himself, making note of what he hears around him. These few scenes, as well as another moment involving Bryan, Kim, and a map are well filmed, fast-paced, and fairly intense. Megaton’s style is often frenetic, but the quick-paced nature of the scenes are rarely annoying and jumpy, as if often the case in modern action films.
I do wish Taken 2 did more with its characters. Neeson and Grace obviously shine (Nick’s right though, as Maggie Grace playing a teenager is somewhat laughable at this point). I particularly wanted more from Bryan’s former secret agent associates, played by Jon Gries and Leland Orser. Gries and Orser are both strong character actors, and incorporating them into the story in a better manner would have been both easy and welcomed. Famke Janssen’s Lenore is another troubling character, as it seemed she was out of commission for far longer than she needed to be. I would have liked to see her get the chance to kick some ass as well. I do like what the film did with Kim, referencing her most likely PTSD from the events of the first film, and having her mature and grow a bit as well. Additionally, her scenes with Neeson come off as far more natural — their father/daughter dynamic is better in this movie. The villains are largely disposable (lead thug Rade Serbedzjia is fine as the big bad), and their quest for vengeance is rarely touched upon in a philosophical manner by the script — but again, this isn’t that type of movie.
Having written all this, I still prefer the original Taken over its sequel. I can see Taken 2 growing on me quite a bit and I did like it, but it could have done much more with the characters. If there is a third iteration, I hope the secondary agents get a bit more to do, and I hope the filmmakers throw a few interesting wrenches into the mix. The plot of Taken 2 is generic (fine, so is the first film’s), but the action is great once it gets rolling and the characters are well-acted and interesting for the most part. Megaton brings a different style from Morrel, and that helps set it apart somewhat. Taken 2 doesn’t go far enough beyond what the first film gave us almost four years ago, but that’s ok — I didn’t really expect any more or any less.