[Review] - Taken 2

Courtesy of EuropaCorp
There are at least two good films hidden within the workings of Taken 2. Unfortunately, neither of them are actually Taken 2. A victim of it's own hubris, the sequel to the surprise 2007 hit lacks any of the qualities that made the first film enjoyable. Rebuilding the film using a similar, but flawed, formula only makes the differences between the two films more noticeable. To the point that even watching Liam Neeson punch people in the throat was barely enjoyable.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once had a particular set of skills, but don't any longer.

The first film was never meant to be a hit. It was a short, cheap, foreign film that was fated to be leased direct to DVD. An early leak on the internet doomed it yet more to be forgotten, or to eternally line the bargain bin at Best Buy. A stripped down reaction to the Bourne films, concentrating the focus on blunt action, the film was decidedly unpolished. It lack elaborate camera work or choreography. The dialogue was minimal, the plot thin, the film short. And it worked. It worked very well. Bolstered by Neeson's performance, and the simple story keeping it from tripping over itself, the results were a highly satisfying, highly memorable film.

The sequel is the opposite of all that. Everything that was simple is overblown. Everything that was understated is overt. Everything that worked lies twitching on the floor, in a pool of it's own blood. This is what happens when success goes to the head, in the worst possible way. And given how intensely Neeson has been denying Taken 3, I think he is very aware of the failures of this film.

And it's obvious not only from the first scene, but from the first frame. The credits glitch on screen, in the same way they did earlier this year, on the Bourne Legacy, another film which collapsed under the weight of it's predecessor. The opening scene, and every scene afterwards that takes place in a space larger then 8x12, is spastically cut, with intrusive aeriel shots that exists only because this time around, they could afford a helicopter or crane. Indeed, the editor felt the need to include every bit of coverage the director shot, as scenes roughly jump from left to right to close up to long shot, to hovering just above the bald spot. The cameras themselves are stationary, never seeming to move on their own. But there were apparently so many of them, they used the coverage to make up for the lifelessness of the scenes.

The plot this time around is that, while on holiday, Neeson and Famke Janssen are kidnapped by the families of the Algerian men Neeson killed the first time around. As a sequel hook, that's pretty good. Unfortunately, they do next to nothing with it. Foreshadowing, about having Neeson on his knees before the graves of the dead, is abandoned immediately. The villains, given back story and motivation this time, are less effective then the nameless mooks of the first film, mostly down to, they never really act on their motivations. They seem unwilling to actually kill anyone, content to keep them locked in unsupervised spaces, despite knowing what Neeson is capable of. And every time he escapes, they seem just as surprised as the last time.

The actual plot, for most of the film, isn't any of the above. More of the film is actually about Neeson keeping his daughter (Maggie Grace, who no longer looks anywhere near the age she is playing) from getting kidnapped, in the only clever twist on the original. And thus we come to the first of the two films Taken 2 might have been, but isn't. The most enjoyable section of the film are the scenes when Neeson, through a weird spy gadget iphone (whose presence meant the baddies didn't frisk Neeson, known super killer) directs his daughter to his location, making her a junior spy in the process. The car chase that concludes this sequence even features purposefully clumsy car driving, reflecting her own inexperience.

Edit Famke Janssen out, and this section of the film, amounting to about half an hour or so, makes an excellent short film, which even comes with a more natural conclusion then the real film does, as they arrive safely at the American embassy, in each others arms. Indeed, the film should have logically ended there, but this film does not work on logic. The last twenty minutes feel tacked on and out of place, as if the writers had forgotten about resolving the remaining conflicts, and had to scramble to get something ready for the next day of shooting.

I have nothing against Famke Janssen. She and Neeson are great actors, though you wouldn't know it from this film. The dialogue in the first act is so stilted and forced, you can tell neither actor really wanted to be speaking the lines. Nothing sounds genuine, and each line is more embarrassing then the next, as it sets up the 'issues' and 'conflicts' of the film, along with the least believable reconciliation I've ever seen put to film. The non-Turkey scenes of this film need to be removed and burned, as they are an embarrassment to all involved, especially the final "lets all laugh just because we're happy as the film fades" moment. I felt my popcorn coming back up, the scene was so horribly cheesy.

But Janssen's presence isn't the only one that makes very little sense in the film. The boyfriend character adds nothing to the father-daughter relationship that hasn't already been established, and only makes Neeson seem cartoonish. A brief appearance by the French diplomat Neeson tortured in the first film is an unnecessary step in showing the Albanians tracking Neeson down. And Neeson's buddies, in two brief scenes, provide nothing but a last minute deus ex machina.

But the worst crime is the complete lack of logic. Because the film tries to ramp up the action, ramp up the emotional damage, and ramp up the danger, it fall into the trap that the first film avoided. Girl goes to Paris, gets kidnapped, father hunts her down. That is simple. Even the methods he used to find her were simple, and followed an "A to B, to C" structure. This film trips over itself at every step. Why would Kim, who alternatively seems to have suffered emotional damage by her ordeal, or not, ever ever travel outside of the US again, without lapsing into a shock state? Is the Albanian mob so powerful, they have corrupt cops working for them in every European city, just in case? Exactly how many hideouts do the Albanians have in Istanbul? Why would Neeson leave his blood lost ex-wife in a dank basement, where he knows the baddies will find her? Why would he do so twice? And becuase they insisted on having Neeson arrive at his wife's location just as they were hauling her away made the entire film seem like a long "your princess is in another castle."

Which brings us to the second film inside Taken 2 that might have been, one that loses all the above jumble, and so much more. One that keeps the plot as simple as the original, and provides Neeson an opportunity to actually accomplish something in the role: eliminate the wife and daughter altogether. Neeson, on a foreign job, by himself, gets taken. He then has to get himself free, with no help from anybody. And then proceeds to hunt down everyone else in the Albanian mob, as he says in the film, so they stop coming after them once and for all. A fact in this film he forgets seconds after he states that the other sons will come after him too.

So much of this film doesn't work, there is barely anything to speak highly of. Of the cast, only Maggie Grace impresses, and between these films and Lockout, I think she has the makings of a fine action career ahead of her. But everything else is a mess. The score is horrible, the editing a hack job, the direction next to nonexistent. The script is a joke that never would have made it past the lobby of a studio if it weren't for the title. The best thing to happen to this film is to be forgotten, to disappear as the original was meant to, so that in a year or two, it will be as if it never existed.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Great review. Loud, dumb, and idiotic, but also a bunch of fun if you love seeing Neeson run around, shooting, driving, and killing anybody that gets in his way. Can’t say I loved it, but I had a good time with it.