One does not walk into a showing of Taken 2 expecting high art or even a technically proficient movie — one walks into a showing of Taken 2 expecting a thrilling rain of ass-kickery by the Nazi-thwarting Jedi wolf-puncher. Unfortunately, one may be disappointed this time out as this Taken fails to grab us by the throat and hold our attention in the way that the previous one did.
Spoilers Ahead! Seriously, I ruin this movie and like 5 others. Bruce Willis was dead in The Sixth Sense. There, see?
Though Taken came out in 2008, it is a bit hard to figure out how long it has been since Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) freed the beast on a horde of Euro-thugs. In the beginning of this one, we see Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija) standing over the mass grave of his son Marko (the kidnappy big bad from the first film) and his pulse-less good time buddies. Murad wants revenge and blood… he wants bloody revenge, so he decides that the man who slaughtered the adored sons of his village will be brought down.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles Bryan is swinging by his ex wife’s house to pick up his (presumably still) teenage daughter Kim (the 29 year old Maggie Grace) for a driving lesson, but she isn’t there. The little hussy is at her boyfriend’s house and Bryan uses his “very particular set of skills” to track her down. Clearly he is still over-protective and she is still healing from the psychological damage levied on her by that whole “almost getting sold into sex-slavery” thing.
As for Bryan’s ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), she is coming undone now that her husband Stuart has become an unseen bastard who drives beemer’s in an over-fast way when he is having a hissy.
How do we deal with the presumed end of Lenore’s second marriage? A road trip to Istanbul with the wolf-puncher and the world’s oldest teenager, that’s how.
Once in Istanbul, things really start to get going. That is not a true thing that I just typed. In truth, the arrival of the fam in eld- Constantinople sets off more track laying for the middling second act. The hotel is lovely, Bryan is always prepared and hyper-aware of his surroundings, and Kim is trying to play matchmaker, because Stuart is invisible and a dick.
While all of that is going on, Murad’s men are getting close to making the biggest mistake of their quickly expiring lives based on their intense need to… I really don’t know. They’re thugs, lets not dredge the notion lake for something shiny here, mkay?
Anyway, the thugs follow Bryan and his Famke, naturally setting off Bryan’s spidey-senses. Suddenly he is leaping to action, kicking his driver out of the car and verbally GPSing a route for Famke to make her way back to the hotel where Kim is sitting by the pool Skype eye-fucking her scraggly boyfriend (Luke Grimes).
This happens at, what I will guesstimate is the 30 minute mark, so by now I had spent the first 1/3 of the film waiting for the rise of the badass. Sadly though, we were not there yet. Oh sure, we get Bryan telling his daughter that her mother is about to be “taken” and then he himself gets thrown into a van, but most of the action is led by Kim, who had — by then — left the pool for her father’s room and then fled the hotel with a handful of grenades and a plan thanks to some of the most impressive amateur typography skills ever committed to film and an explodey round of Marco Polo.
The rest of the second act revolves around Murad’s obligatory declaration of evil intent, the draining of the Famke, and a confined Bryan breaking free. There are more random thugs that get deadened (their families are going to be pissed) and a rooftop chase scene that resolves with Neeson’s first moment of outright badassery. Another car chase follows and then it is go-time. Fucking finally.
The Return of the Wolf Puncher
By the time the third act rolled around, I felt starved. The first movie had been so surprising and intense and this was formulaic and half-asleep. We never doubt the ending, we never have a reason to think that there is real jeopardy, and nothing takes our breath away like when Bryan shot Jean-Claude’s wife at the dinner table in Taken.
With all of that said, I still had an open mind when Bryan turned to Kim and told her that he was going to rescue her mother by doing what he does best. Hell, I got so jazzed at the sudden possibility of real, sustained action that I sprinted to get some popcorn, because Liam Neeson going ape-shit on a big damn screen is why the baby Jesus gave us popcorn. And when I returned, I was not disappointed. All of a sudden, Neeson had on his fisticuff jacket and his trigger finger had grown itchy.
Now, I won’t spoil the ending for you because I was raised better, but what you think happened probably happened and it happened quick. It also happened because of a wolf-punch, but that doesn’t matter because Taken 2‘s end was sadly predictable and fast, the hallmarks of both a great lover and a great action film. So, where did Taken 2 go wrong?
Essentially, the film took too long to get where it was going and when it got there, it didn’t go far enough. The script is weak, seeming like it was generated by a program and not written by actual humans, particularly the pair that wrote the first film and the characters move without a tether to anything substantial. They are a means to a sloppy plot and worthless beyond that. The worst instance of this is in the primary villain, Murad.
Murad is without depth. He is singularly driven in the way that Neeson was in the first (and is in this one) but we don’t care about him in any way because he’s so clearly evil and so clearly bored. My goodness, there are multiple scenes where he is just sitting in a room waiting to get the call that informs him to show up on set and shit out some tropey “I’ll get you my pretty” gobbledygook and show off his finely cultivated villain beard.
Part of the charm of the first film is that Neeson’s character was the hunter and the onion kept unraveling. Slowly but surely Bryan feels isolated — Jean Claude betrays him, he’s battling a large and powerful network that buys and sells young women for their own delight — we know that he has no choice and no time. Here though, Murad is sort of the hunter, the core of the onion, and he absolutely has a choice. Neeson is good by contrast but not good enough to save this thing and so we observe an un-even actioner that seemed to be doomed by the fact that the filmmakers felt the need to try and replicate everything about the first film that lived on the surface and nearly none of what lived below and made it chug ahead.