‘Taken 2′ Review
Inhuman monsters who kidnap young women for the purposes of human trafficking have families too. And, it turns out, they’re just as inhuman and monstrous. In ‘Taken 2,’ the father of one of the many (MANY!) men Liam Neeson killed in the pursuit of his daughter in ‘Taken’ swears vengeance. “I don’t care what he did,” he tells Neeson’s Brian Mills when they finally meet. “I’ll never see his face again, or hear his voice again.” Yes, that sweet angelic voice, no doubt cooing something about how he wants that new sex slaves’ manacles tightened before she tries to escape again.
Regardless of his son’s crimes, this surly Albanian senior (Rade Serbedzija) wants revenge on Mills for getting his revenge. He took your daughter, you took my son, I take your family — it’s an endless cycle of takings, really, one that won’t stop until the budding franchise’s box office grosses do. Then again, given the rather listless quality of ‘Taken 2,’ that day may not be too far off.
Once again, we follow Mr. Mills on a mission of methodical and insanely proficient murder and mayhem in Eastern Europe. Previously, he was the best there is at what he does, whatever that is — something involving private security and karate chopping men in the throat — but in the interim between ‘Taken’s 1 and 2, Mills’ powers of butt-kicking, evasion, gunplay and deception have reached near super-heroic levels. For the amount of brilliant improvisation he uses to defeat these angry Albanians after they kidnap him and his ex-wife Lenny (Famke Janssen) on a family vacation in Turkey, we might as well be watching MacGuyver star in a remake of ‘Death Wish.’
The movie is emphatically, even gleefully preposterous. Mills’ daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), the subject of the titular taking in the first film, is on hand as a sort of sidekick this time; after Mills and Lenny are abducted, she helps find them through the careful use of maps, grenades, shoelaces and running in a string bikini (not necessarily in that order). Kim looks to be about 30 (Grace is 29), but she acts like a teenager; she still lives at home and doesn’t even have a driver’s license (Mills’ spends most of the film’s first act badgering her through their driving lessons). Still, despite her inexplicable immaturity and very explicable emotional scars after being sold into sexual slavery a couple of years ago, Kim rises to the occasion. At one point, she even outdrives Turkish police during a lengthy car chase through the back alleys of Istanbul, double clutching and fish-tailing with a proficiency that would make Steve McQueen raise an eyebrow.
There’s nothing wrong with a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously — especially when that movie ends with an absurdly long gun-hand-and-knife fight between Neeson and a random Albanian dude in a track suit. (Liam Neeson’s killed half of Albania by this point — he’s gonna lose to a dude in a track suit?!? Please.) The problem with ‘Taken 2′ isn’t the ludicrous plot or laughable dialogue — it’s the fact that the ludicrous plot and laughable dialogue are all in service of some very subpar action. Its director is Olivier Megaton, the Luc Besson disciple who has helmed several of the French action auteur’s weakest offerings, including ‘Transporter 3′ and the laughably terrible ‘Colombiana.’ Besson used to direct these sorts of movies himself, but in recent years he’s become the David O. Selznick of European trash-action movies, farming out the concepts he writes and produce to guys like Megaton. Some of his charges are quite talented — Pierre Morrel did a fine job with the first ‘Taken’ and the underrated ‘From Paris With Love,’ and James Mather and Stephen St. Leger showed promise with this year’s ‘Space Jail’ ‘Lockout‘ — but despite his bombastic name, action is not Megaton’s strong suit. To say his style favors flash over coherence is generous in the extreme. Basically anytime Neeson takes out his gun or puts up his dukes, ‘Taken 2′ instantly becomes visual gibberish.
‘Taken 2′s’ one redeeming aspect, albeit a barely explored one, is the way it ever-so-briefly considers the bloodthirsty mentality that drives this kind of movie. There were seemingly no repercussions for the righteous mass slaughter Neeson enacted in order to save his daughter in the first ‘Taken’ — and it is interesting to finally see the chickens come home to roost this time around. Though he’s already plowed through a small army of men without the slightest inkling of remorse, Mills does pause near the end of the film to make a thoughtful, introspective choice about the future of his life, and the sad cycle of violence it has become. And then he turns around and kills a guy by breaking his skull against a bathroom wall.
‘Taken 2′ hits theaters Friday, October 5.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’