Taken 2 is an unnecessary sequel. That said, pretty much any sequel to a standalone story is unnecessary. The original Taken was a surprise hit, a slick, efficient action thriller that remodelled Liam Neeson into the world’s most overprotective father and a badass with a ‘particular set of skills’ to rival Chuck Norris. Given how tidily that film was wrapped up, it’s hard to envisage Taken 2 as anything but an unnecessary sequel that was made to capitalise on the original’s success. As with many such sequels, the result this time is an inferior follow-up that sticks close to the money-printing blueprint of the first film – Die Hard 2 is not an inappropriate comparison. But like Die Hard 2, Taken 2 is far from being terrible and still offers enough thrills to satisfy as an above average action flick.
While it might be unnecessary, returning writers Luc Besson (who also produced both films) and Robert Kamen create a reasonable justification for this outing (which is more than I can say for many retreads). Ever wonder what happens to all those bodies that action heroes leave behind? Taken 2 answers that question – they’re sent home via plane to their loving families. In this case, it’s the members of the Albanian Mafia who were killed by Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) in his dogged quest to retrieve his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from a human trafficking ring. Murad, the father of ‘Marko of Tropojë’ from the first film, swears vengeance for his son and all those others that Bryan murdered. Thus, when Bryan, Kim and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) meet up in Istanbul for a bit of family bonding, Murad strikes. It’s a straightforward setup but it works well and justifies another round of Neeson kicking ass and taking names.
Murad is played by all-purpose Eastern European villain Rade Šerbedžija. 24 fans such as myself will remember him as former Soviet General Dmitri Gredenko from season 6, while others are more likely to recognise him from various bit parts such as the ‘nice coat’ guy from Batman Begins. Needless to say, I’m a fan of the actor but he doesn’t do much here aside from giving orders and having one or two menacing conversations with Mills about the nature of revenge. Murad therefore isn’t a physical villain, that role goes to chief henchman extraordinaire ‘chubby tracksuit guy’. At least Taken 2 has a central villain however; the original didn’t, instead making do with the pressure of time to give it focus.
Incoming director Olivier Megaton has developed a reputation as a bit of a Megatron of action movies, having compromised Transporter 3 with repetitive action and apparently done poorly with Colombiana (which I haven’t seen yet). Fortunately, Taken 2 is not so derivative. There are some clever sequences involving grenades, sound and the use of geometry, all of which allow Mills to showcase his superspy skills. The action, filmed in a tolerable shaky cam style, is also pretty hard-hitting although it does lack the intensity of the first film. I suspect that this is the result of editing that was done to ensure a lower classification, as there are several times that a shot cuts away just as someone is killed. This takes the impact out of some scenes, especially since it can make it difficult to tell just how certain characters died unless you were paying close attention. Hopefully we’ll get an unrated cut of the film that restores these scenes to their full neck-cracking, bone-breaking glory.
Above and beyond the direction and acting however is Liam Neeson. His mere presence elevates the film. Expectedly, his performance here is just as strong as before. Moreover, Maggie Grace bears considerable pluck in an expanded role that briefly takes the film in an unexpected direction. What I really appreciate though is that the story takes its time in the first act to develop the relationship between these characters, rather than just launching into the action with a mantra of ‘bigger, louder, better’. This underscores the action when it finally does come, adding weight and realism to what is otherwise pretty silly stuff.
Not as fresh as the first, Taken 2 still offers a fun time with Liam Neeson going after the bad guys in this engaging action thriller.