JIM ROSS isn’t exactly taken aback by Taken 2.
Directed by Olivier Megaton
In the first Austin Powers film, there are cutaway gags where the effect of killing random henchmen is lampooned. A widowed wife weeps alongside her son, and another henchman’s buddies sob into their Hooters beers. Mix this with the script of a generic and dull action movie and Taken 2 would likely have been the result.
The premise, like Taken, is simple enough. After Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills racks up a huge bodycount in the original, the Abanian gang family that was decimated is out for revenge. Unlike the relatives in Austin Powers, though, they target Mills and his family (reprisals as ex-wife from Famke Janssen and daughter from Maggie Grace) in Istanbul to satisfy their bloodthirst.
Taken was decent ‘trash’ – the sort of thing producer Luc Besson is noted for getting right (The Fifth Element) but also wrong (The Transporter sequels). It ended up a guilty pleasure as a result of the gravitas the soon-to-be-reinvented Liam Neeson brought to the role.
The film was a throwback to the enjoyably preposterous one-man-army action hero films of the 80s and early 90s – the sort of films that aren’t being made by anyone these days other than Jason Statham (hence the reason we now get pastiches like The Expendables) – but with a hint of Bourne and acting gravitas.
With this in mind, it is easy to see what Olivier Megaton, the director of Taken 2, clearly misunderstands: the context into which Liam Neeson was placed made the first film work. Use Nicolas Cage, for instance, and Taken would have been much poorer. This (surprisingly) isn’t a slight on Cage, simply an observation that the weight of Neeson’s previous career coloured in the character of Bryan. This no longer works, and we get precious few of the steely speeches and preposterous detective work. The action is even more incomprehensibly edited, moving further away from the kinetic Bourne style it aimed for more than the first one did.
Taken 2 feels passé, where the first felt vibrant. The action reinvention of Liam Neeson already had its high point cinematically with Joe Carnahan’s surprisingly nihilist survival drama (and wolf-punching actioner) The Grey. It also doesn’t help that the film makes prominent reference to the brilliant Drive twice. You can blink and miss the first one, but the second involves an astoundingly prominent soundtrack appearance of Chromatics’ ‘Tick Of The Clock’ (a track heavily associated with Winding Refn’s film) whilst someone is told to wait…in a car…for no longer than five minutes. Really? Are you this devoid of ideas already?
The best sequels develop a new angle on the original whilst retaining the basic details. Taken 2, however, is a tired film, which builds upon the original in all the wrong ways.