Prior to 2008, Liam Neeson was just an actor with great drama chops. Then "Taken" hit, and he became a badass overnight. Sure, he'd been Qui-Gon Jinn, but lightsaber battles did not prepare us for the ass-kicking that he did as Bryan Mills as he searched for his kidnapped teenage daughter in Paris.
Naturally, there had to be a sequel.
"Taken 2" is set a year after the events of the original film. Bryan has wrapped up a business trip in Istanbul, and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) surprise him with a visit. Unfortunately, Murad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedžija), the father of one of the casualties in "Taken," has sworn to destroy Bryan's family to avenge his son's death. Hoxha's men manage to kidnap Bryan and Lenore, and they are closing in on Kim. Things looks dire, but Bryan must figure out a way to save his family.
The original director, Pierre Morel ("District 13"), is replaced in this installment by Olivier Megaton ("Hitman," "Transporter 3"). If you've seen these movies, the juxtaposition of film quality should be apparent. There is less finesse in "Taken 2," less of a plot, less suspense, and it also makes less sense. There's just less of everything.
Any plot elements that you see in "Taken 2" are merely superficial. Kim has a boyfriend, but he adds nothing to the movie and seems to be there because it's a teenage girl requirement. In case the audience is dense, Bryan's friends give him a hard time about still having feelings for Lenore. There was more suspense in the original "Taken," as Bryan had to hop on a transatlantic flight and try to find his daughter in a city of 12 million people. He arrived at a location just after his daughter had been moved, and he had to, ahem, coerce more people to divulge the next location. In the sequel, everyone is in the same city, and it doesn't take Bryan long to figure out where everyone is. In the first few shots of the movie, there was movement for movement's sake, much like in the later "Bourne" films.
You had to suspend disbelief to enjoy "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," but "Taken 2" takes it to an almost ridiculous level. Bryan bypasses a machine gun and picks up a downed foe's pistol instead, but later on, he makes a point to take an AK47 from the next enemy. A baddie fires his machine gun for 15 seconds and doesn't hit the wide side of a barn, but Bryan steps out from behind cover and kills him instantly with a pistol shot.
There are also a few cases of stupid bad guy syndrome, such as when the kidnappers return to the premises, see their murdered comrades on the floor, and look dumbfounded as they wonder, "What could have caused this?"
Bryan departs from the enemy compound with only a pistol, and depending on the gun, that can mean up to a maximum of 20 bullets in the magazine. He expends a couple of bullets on the bad guys on the way out, and a car chase ensues while numerous enemies fire at him. Somehow, he returns fire but never has to reload. Kim, who cannot pass her driving test in a quiet Los Angeles suburb, manages to expertly race down narrow Turkish streets while inexplicably shifting gears.
There is something patently believable about Neeson playing a concerned husband and father — probably because it's not a stretch. Bryan remains calm and collected while Lenore and Kim panic, and one of the coolest parts of "Taken 2" involves him utilizing some of the more intellectual aspects of his line of work. Remember, kids: Math is awesome and can save your life someday. Janssen isn't given much to do, as she's an unconscious hostage for the better part of the movie. Grace needs to break out of the stereotype of being the girl who always needs to be rescued, and this film helps forward that agenda a tiny bit.
Alas, "Taken 2" is missing the magic of the original film. Perhaps it's because the novelty has worn off and we're no longer surprised that the kindly drama actor can kick ass and take names. Yes, it is just an action movie and you should check your brain at the door, but you won't be able to shake the nagging feeling that this would've been much better in more adept hands.
On the bright side, you get to watch Neeson be awesome for 90 minutes, and that's not a bad thing.
"Taken 2" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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