When Taken was released in 2009, we were treated to the birth of the baddest man on the planet in the form of 54-year old Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills. Audiences couldn’t get enough of Mills using his particular set of skills to nearly do the same level of damage to the male population of Albania as the 1940’s Italian occupation, while trying to rescue his daughter from a sex trafficking ring. The end result was easily the biggest box-office surprise hit of that year.
Naturally, following the Laws of Making More Money, that meant that a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately though, this badass half-centurion’s followup adventure has had all its excitement “taken” out.
Most fans of the first film never really asked for a sequel, but you’d have been hard pressed to find one that would willingly turn down the chance for more Mills mayhem. And initially, that’s exactly what the plot promises: Rade Serbedzija is Murad, patriarch of the Albanian human trafficking clan that Mills decimated in the first film, and he’s been stewing for the last four years on a way to get revenge on the man that killed his son. That opportunity presents itself when Mills, while working in Istanbul, has his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) join him for some R & R as they try to rebuild their family unit. Murad’s gang of mustachioed, soccer loving thugs set up a trap to kidnap the family and have Mills watch his ex-wife and daughter die before he too is killed.
With the “Why” established, all that producer Luc Besson and frequent collaborator Olivier Megaton – who replaces Pierre Morel in the director’s chair – had to do for the “How”, was deliver more of the same Liam Neeson bone crunching action and we’d be happy. However, while there’s definitely “action” and a healthy helping of “Liam Neeson”, that “bone crunching” bit seems to have been left on the editing room floor.
While Taken was actually rated PG13, many people felt that it should have received an R age restriction not just for its sexual subject matter, but especially for the visceral brutality with which Neeson dispatched every unfortunate sod to stand between him and his daughter’s safety. And while Neeson still seems to have that violent fire about him, most of it never reaches the audience.
Action sequences appear to be sanitized in the most bizarre way, as if whomever was doing the editing didn’t care one iota for the plausibility of the end result, as long as not a single drop of blood made it into the final print. What this means, is that people die in the most puzzling of family friendly manners: In one scene, Liam Neeson merely covers Random Albanian In A Track-Suit #17’s face with one hand, while the camera cuts away for a split second, and when it’s back he’s dead. Initially I thought that maybe RAIATS17’s heart had just given out due to his proximity to so much badassery, but as the movie went on I realized, that no, Bryan Mills had actually just been neutered.
Not helping matters much is that fact that while Pierre Morel kept everything very simplistic and grounded, giving it a sort of proto-action movie feel, Megaton – like his adopted name – tends to get a bit more bombastic. Frenetic cuts and shaky-cam abound, but when stripped of that crunch of baton on skull, or the crimson spray of a knife to the throat, a lot of it is even less coherent than normal (and in some sequences, just makes Mills appear to aimlessly be fanning his hands as people run into them). While having the audience do all the heavy lifting when it comes to the plot is sort of OK, having them do it for the action is a bit much, if you ask me.
There’s no doubt though that Liam Neeson is still the star of this show. While the sanitization may have made him more demographically acceptable, Bryan Mills is still not a man you wish to cross, as he’s retained that calm rage about him that was so attractive the first time around. Rade Serbedzija can do the whole Eastern European baddie thing in his sleep at this stage of his career, and Famke Janssen does an amicable job with a role that mainly requires her to either be hog-tied and bleeding or thrown into the back of cars/vans/insert preferred mode of transport here. Maggie Grace is the one that stands out a bit here, as her role gets expanded on from the first film, as she evades initial capture and is now guided by daddy dearest via secret spy phone on how to rescue her captured parents.
Unfortunately, this also introduces the most ridiculous moments of the movie as Mills encourages what is easily the most irresponsible use of hand grenades ever captured on film, just so that Kim can track him down. Wanton property damage aside though, Grace does a decent job of not coming off too whiny and even appearing mostly capable. She also no longer runs like a slow motion epileptic seizure, which is always a plus.
She’s also at the centre of one of the film’s very few original action spins as a running gag about her having failed her driver’s exam twice before is turned into a pretty decent car chase, where the driver doesn’t suddenly possess the skills of Michael Schumacher the moment they get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, most of the other action sequences lack that spark or drive, and end up being so pedestrian that you’ll forget about them the moment the next generic bad guy shows up to have his generic Eastern Bloc features rearranged.
In the end, I couldn’t help feeling that what I was watching was only a portion of a what had the potential to be an okayish sequel. But with the all those explosive “Damn!” moments cut out to ensure that the film reaches a wider audience, and in the process diluting action man Liam Neeson, the film’s biggest draw card, we end up with an uninspired and easily forgettable copy of a great film.
Last Updated: October 5, 2012