TAKEN 2 is a perfect example of a sequel made for no other reason than that its predecessor made a lot of money at the box office, so why not go back to the well? Following Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) using his particular set of skills to track down his kidnapped daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and rescue her from a ring of Albanian sex traffickers, there really is no further story to tell. What sucked you into the first film was a father’s commitment to doing everything in his power in order to protect his kid, something we would all do if the situation called for it, only we don’t all have the CIA training Neeson was able to provide Mills with to take things to a whole ‘nother level. By any means necessary was how he operated, and watching Neeson traipse around the opposite hemisphere on an aggressive mission filled with one simple purpose made for a solid flick that came with a side dish of revenge as Mills punished those who stood in his way.
So where can a sequel possibly go from there? Who can be taken this time without the premise sounding completely ridiculous? Well, in TAKEN 2, it’s the families of those dead Albanians who are out for some vengeance of their own. Apparently, sex traffickers are still the sons, brothers, husbands and fathers of people who care about their well-being, and, although they may be horrible people who do horrible things for a living, that doesn’t mean they’re not missed when they’re dead. Led by Rade Serbedzija, a group of Albanians adopt the idea of blood for blood, and target Mills, his daughter and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) while on vacation in Istanbul, only we know they should know better than to fuck with Liam Neeson’s family once again after what happened the first time around.
And that’s really the problem with TAKEN 2. It’s not up to the challenge of upping the ante by either offering a credible threat that may put Mills in some sort of jeopardy or changing up the formula that may have worked extremely well the first time around but still had plenty of room for improvement. The Albanians are able to take Mills and Lenore captive at one point, but that actually diminishes any level of excitement TAKEN 2 might carry over from the first film. What was so thrilling about Neeson in that chapter was his constant barrage of offense in order to find his daughter before it was too late. This time around, we’re forced to watch Neeson playing defense, and it isn’t at all pretty… or fun for that matter. Who wants to see Neeson put on the sideline for any period of time in a film that requires him to be justifiably violent at all times? Believe me… you’ll be asking yourself that question on a few different occasions as TAKEN 2 progresses, and you aren’t getting a satisfying helping of Liam Neeson, bad-ass extraordinaire.
Maggie Grace is given a much more proactive role this time, in order to make up for Neeson’s break from the action, and while she’s able to act as a worthy accomplice while Neeson is out of the game, once he’s allowed to check back in, she’s reduced to an annoying sidekick whose dialogue doesn’t reach any further than “I can’t” as he’s forced to prompt her to keep doing what she’s doing if she wants to make it out of this situation alive. She at least fares a little better than Janssen, whose main contribution to TAKEN 2 is her whimpering and the constant uttering of “No!” in a variety of deliveries. I get that she’s being held prisoner against her will and everything, but hasn’t Janssen proved that she’s capable of handling a bit more substantive dialogue in such a distressing scenario that the same word over and over and over again.
Making matters worse is the nauseating direction of Olivier Megaton, whose incompetence behind the camera can’t even deliver one action or fight scene that isn’t dizzying as a result of an exorbitant amount of unnecessary edits or a sheer inability to keep the camera steady. Fight scenes are messes of shaky camera work that render you incapable of making out exactly what is happening, and for you to be unable to see the action in an action movie… yeah, that’s a major misfire in picking a disorienting style over letting the substance of the action sell itself. He isn't able to build any sort of thrilling pace either as TAKEN 2 moves from scene to scene, leaving the whole of the film feeling rather flat, which once again doesn't bode well for the type of flick this is meant to be. These are some of the same problems he exhibited in his earlier films (TRANSPORTER 3 and COLOMBIANA), proving that he hasn't yet learned from those glaring mistakes. Those were two bad films that occurred under his watch. Now he's can take credit for a trifecta.
Neeson is the only true saving grace for TAKEN 2, but wanting to watch him bust out those skills once more really isn't reason enough to recommend this follow-up. It does give me plenty of opportunity to just tell you to go back and revisit TAKEN as you'll be getting a much better film and not a lesser retread that's just going through the motions to capitalize on the success of the initial installment of the series. That one will satisfy your bad-ass Neeson fix... this one won't do anything of the sort.
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