Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenplay: Luc Besson (screenplay), Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace
BBFC Certification: 12A
Duration: 91 mins
The original Taken (directed by Pierre Morel) was a phenomenal smash hit in 2009. It cost $25 million and took over $200 million worldwide. Aping a Bourne Identity business model, Taken was simple and direct – it stuck a serious actor into a tense chase thriller, embedded escalating action, and set the whole thing in Europe. Taken’s script, by Luc Besson (Leon, The Fifth Element) and regular writing partner Robert Mark Kamen (The Fifth Element, and The Karate Kid), had high concept and hero-in-a-foreign land freedom, and while it stretched its plausibility by the end, the whole experience was fun, and an engagingly suspenseful ride.
Taken’s remarkable success was also its apparent creation of a new subgenre. An in-joke action niche that lies somewhere between the Jasons (Bourne and Statham) on the mid-budget action scale. It was serious, but wilfully over serious, and broke through its own tension with a gamely nudge and a wink – in particular in the form of Liam Neeson’s deadpan intensity. After all this was Liam Neeson – Oscar Schindler and Qui-Gon Jin – kicking ass without flicker of a smile in a role that, in the 90s, would have been played by Steven Segal’s stunt ponytail.
It all added up to a gleefully disposable hit, and the scale of its success meant films could suddenly be endorsed with reference to it. “Fans of Taken will love this” …
While Taken 2 was perhaps inevitable with the box office cash spilling from the pockets of its creators, a script still needed to get Liam Neeson on board.
Taken 2, now in 12A rather than certificate 15 form, follows on shortly after the events of the original. Mills is still divorced but close to his ex-wife (Famke Janssen, X-Men), and still w-a-y too protective of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, best known for Lost). As concerned daddies go, Mills is relentlessly suspicious of anyone who may think of stealing Kim a second glance, and obsessive to the point that he’s probably waterboarded her chiropodist. Due to general domestics, mother and daughter visit Mills while he is working in Istanbul, however, unbeknownst to the family, the Albanian father of a man Mills killed in the first instalment has sworn a blood revenge. While out and about in Istanbul and without any real warning, Mills’ unswerving badguy-sense gets tingling, and just as suddenly the cat and mouse begins. This time with the whole family at stake, not just the daughter.
In a change-up to the original, Mills and his wife get taken, and must rely on Kim to find where they have been captured. The idea is a fun variation, but the over-serious silliness quickly gets more and more contrived. Characters constantly seem to take the more “cinematic” choice rather than any easy sensible one (e.g. heading from a place of relative safety to go to precisely where badguys will be looking, via a window ledge, and all to lamely hide in a cupboard), and it quickly becomes apparent that the original’s precarious balance is not going to quite be repeated. Silly is fun, but silly is not tense. Because it is silly.
There are smarts to the way that Kim finds her father, but even that is amusingly ridiculous: Kim would have a swat team on her in minutes for all the carnage she must cause flinging grenades around the city – and for all the schoolboys watching, both the script and the infallible Mills get the speed of sound wrong by a massive factor of three.
However Taken 2 doesn’t stop there. Despite pushing 60, Liam Neeson”s touch becomes so deadly that in a five minute burst he seems to fatally wipe a man’s nose as a finishing move, then shove another into a wall to death. This is funny, but symptomatic of a film that is nervously becoming more comic than exciting, and it never feels clear if it’s deliberate. If it is, Taken 2 is self-aware and a self-deprecating parody that can be fun to enjoy as a group. If it isn’t, then Taken 2 misses that magic balance that made the original so successful, falling short of being either fresh or tense, and of having anywhere near a sufficient story to give its contrivances a half-decent disguise.
Ignoring the chance to explore, or even hint, at what has made Mills so ridiculous, Taken 2 instead makes him even more of a youtube parody in waiting. One can only imagine having him as a father. He may be a your loving dad with “a particular set of skills”, but anytime someone sneezed or used a bluetooth headset he’d likely spin toward you, growl “we’re going to be taken”, mash up the poor unfortunate and man-run into the distance.
Will fans of Taken love its sequel?
Some of the elements that were enjoyable in the first are present and correct once more, although the brutality – the first film was an 18 for the directors cut – is significantly watered down for the wider 12A. Taken 2 is directed – but over edited – by the otherwise superbly named Olivier Megaton, and there are solid performances from all the cast, who are clearly having a lot of fun running and frowning into camera. However, without the freshness of surprise, Taken 2 is even more disposable than its predecessor, and, dare I say it, smacks of a quick-turnaround, wider-audience cash in. It is frequently fun on the same over-serious in-joke level, but the laughs are much more nervous, and any semblance of building from a grounded start seems to have needlessly climbed out of its high-rise window.
If you loved Taken, you may like the sequel. Due to its completely over-the-top deadpan lead character, the film still manages to maintain a trashy sense of heart.
However if you just liked Taken, then without any real suspense or engaging action, Taken 2 will likely be a cynical, awkward, dumbed-down step too far.
Taken 2 is released in the UK on 4 October 2012.
Review by Jonathan Guyett