Not many people would have expected to see Liam Neeson helming a trashy, Luc Besson-produced action franchise before Taken was announced, and even fewer would have expected it to take as much money as it did. But now here we are four years later with Taken 2, in which Neeson reprises his role as ex-CIA man Bryan Mills, the character that established him as an unexpected mid-career action frontman.
Given that this is so patently an attempt to cash in on the first film’s success, it’s to be expected that the formula wouldn’t have changed much. So we open with an unconvincing faux-dramatic setup, much as the first one did, in which Mills frets over his daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) every movement, while ex-wife Lenore (Famke Jansen) tells him just how wrong he’s getting it. This time he shows up at Kim’s boyfriend’s house to break up their lip locking so he can take her for a driving lesson, which to be fair is faintly amusing.
The premise this time around is that the Albanian criminal organisation Mills uncovered and defeated in the last film want “justice” for their dead sons and husbands. In a moment of what is either self-conscious irony or spectacular ignorance – I’m not sure which – the script has Mills claim they’re not after ‘justice’ but ‘revenge’. Headed up by ageing gang boss Murad (Rade Šerbedžija), they set off to capture Mills and his family. Kim’s declaration she has been seeing her boyfriend for three months in the opening act appears to clash with the film’s timescale, but never mind; perhaps Albanian criminal organisations take three months to bury their dead.
The subtle inversion this time is that Mills himself, along with Lenore, are the ones to be taken, while Kim must find a way to free them, but this premise is actually dispensed with rather quickly (after a preposterous set piece involving some impromptu grenade-throwing) and the film settles down into mimicking the first one.
What’s interesting here is that the film has actually been dumbed down in its search for a bigger audience (that jacked-up budget has to be covered somehow), but in doing so, the film is surely likely to alienate some of its core audience; namely, the cult following which enjoyed the first film. The film was cut down to a 12A from what would have been a 15 rating, and what’s left is a series of action sequences which feel like they’ve had the bite taken out of them. New director Olivier Megaton has previous in the action genre, so it seems unlikely that some of the poorly edited fight sequences are entirely down to him, but there are a couple of moments in particular which stick out like a sore thumb. An incident involving a knife is cut away from to the extent where it’s unclear what has actually happened, while two of Bryan’s later kills have quite obviously had the edge taken off them. One neck-breaking scene is laughably sanitised to the point where all sense of believability is lost.
While the action is toned down, many of Taken’s other crucial elements – shallow villains, risible script, Liam Neeson’s wavering accent – are all present and correct. At least it lacks the laziness of the first film’s setup, and Mills remains, just about, a sympathetic protagonist this time around. Probably as a result of that 12A certificate, he’s not so much in the business of shooting innocent bystanders.
Fans of Taken will be hoping for more of the same, only bigger and trashier, but on both counts the film fails to deliver. The benefits of the vastly increased budget are barely evidenced on screen, the action is formulaic, and the script is still terrible. This is an expensive and lazy rehash that either doesn’t understand what made its predecessor popular, or doesn’t care.