I can’t remember if at any point Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills says, “We have been taken, too.” Ordinarily I would remember such witty prose, but for much of TAKEN 2’s running time, I was too busy laughing at the ridiculous filmmaking on display. Olivier Megaton’s sequel to the original TAKEN is far sillier and incoherent than the original, which never claimed to break the action movie mold anyway. TAKEN was mostly successful based on Liam Neeson’s performance, which consistently remains watchable even when working with dreck like this. It also tapped into levels of paranoia shared by the West – particularly the United States – when it came to its premise, which is basically that all Europeans want to do is kill those hateful Americans. By tapping into those fears, I think TAKEN played very well for a lot of people. Nancy Grace probably loves the shit out of these movies.
But make no mistake; TAKEN 2 is a terrible movie. When it’s not edited to near-incomprehension like a 1970s cocaine addict chopping his powder into a fine mist with his razor, it becomes simply idiotic and implausible. If I were Turkey I’d lodge a complaint somewhere; TAKEN 2 turns Istanbul into Mos Eisley, a cinematic hive of scum and villainy. There are a few moments where the movie makes enough sense to be interesting, and Liam Neeson remains a gifted actor even with the shit sandwich of dialogue forced down his throat, but the movie mostly succeeds in being a laughable failure.
If you’ve seen the first one, you know how this goes - a group of Albanians, led by Murad (Rade Serbedzija), want revenge for the various people killed by Mills in the first TAKEN movie. They intend to kidnap Mills’ family and murder them over the graves of their fallen comrades. For Murad, this is even more personal – one of those that Bryan killed was his son. For their plan to work they intend to capture them while the family vacations in Turkey, but of course they don’t play on Bryan’s skill-set and his ability to get himself out of bad situations.
This time Kim (Maggie Grace) is given a bit more to do than to be a victim – when Bryan and Lenore (Famke Janssen) are taken (taken, too, if you prefer), Kim must use her resources to figure out how to get them out. This involves an increasingly implausible set of circumstances involving well-hidden cell phones, a suitcase full of weaponry, and Kim lobbing grenades all over downtown Istanbul. I’ve never been to Istanbul myself, but I would think that someone throwing grenades out windows would be something of a big deal; it’s Turkey, after all, not Syria. But never mind all that – Istanbul is the “other” and so we’re just going to accept that mad bombers happen all the time there.
There’s something strangely xenophobic about the TAKEN franchise – I think it really speaks to the paranoia of the times in regards to its American audiences. In the first one Paris was portrayed as this alien city, and its denizens as international villains just eager and waiting to snatch young Americans for rape and torture. At least a movie like HOSTEL commented on that American fear of the other – TAKEN just seemed to take advantage of it. With these movies, made by mostly European filmmakers, it’s almost if they are anti-tourist films, especially for Americans who are probably already overly paranoid about this kind of thing anyway. Come to Europe, these movies proclaim – come for the kidnapping, stay for the rape.
I may be reading more into this than necessary, but both TAKEN and TAKEN 2 rely on our collective lack of understanding of European and Middle Eastern culture. But this is a simple action movie after all, and if it succeeded on that level all of that would be mere subtext. But Megaton is an ineffective director there too. The first film was unrated on DVD and used that rating appropriately (even the PG-13 theatrical pushed the limits a bit); this one’s PG-13 and all of the violence is so hyperedited – a kick here, a punch here – that anyone could have been made to look like an effective badass. I almost expected an edit for each blink Neeson takes.
TAKEN 2 is also quite bloodless, which makes all the violence even more incoherent. With all the stabbings, shootings, and neck crackings, there’s not one drop of blood spilled. I’ve always thought it somewhat irresponsible when filmmakers don’t show the effects of their violence, and when all is said and done TAKEN 2 might as well have been an adaptation of that 1980s videogame BAD DUDES. Neeson, using his special skills – or Neesense, if you’d rather – manages to get himself out of every possible bad situation, to the point that he ceases to be an ordinary man and becomes something of a superhero.
I’m still a Liam Neeson fan through all this – he manages to find some semblance of humanity in what increasingly has become a ridiculous character – but the script (by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen) betrays him at almost every turn. Maggie Grace also does effective work, even when her character does outlandish things. Famke Janssen gets to play the victim this time out, and Rade Serbedzija gets to growl menacingly, but not much else.
TAKEN 2 will get its audience regardless – I just wish the movie was good enough to deserve it. As it stands, if these filmmakers want us to ever visit Europe again, TAKEN 3 should probably involve Westboroesque hillbilly rapenecks in the backwoods of the Ozarks somewhere. Or hey, what if all the characters at Walt Disney World were just fronting for a human trafficking ring? If that means Liam Neeson gets to break Goofy’s neck at some point in this franchise, perhaps this crappy movie will have been worth it.