When Taken came out in 2008 it was a run-of-the-mill Eurospy action thriller featuring Liam Neeson with little to distinguish it from other movies fitting that description. Since then it has developed a bit of a cult following on the Internet, mostly on the strength of Neeson’s iconic monologue to the human traffickers in the process of kidnapping his daughter. Now Taken 2 comes along, seemingly trying to cash in on this meme, but mostly showing that a running gag on the internet is never in and of itself sufficient reason to make a movie.
The evidence that writer and producer Luc Besson is phoning it in starts with the title; a simple “2” without even a subtitle is about the laziest possible option for a sequel, and just as a sequence of words “Taken Two” lacks even a hint of grace. It’s not even hard to beat: “Taken Again” and “Retaken”, off the top of my head, would be superior. “Taken Aback” shows promise, but might describe the audience’s reaction better.
The story doesn’t improve much on that start. Bryan Mills (Neeson) is in Istanbul finishing up a gig providing private security, where he is joined by his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), who is still recovering from her ordeal in the previous movie when it’s convenient for some drama. Also in Istanbul is Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), the father of the lead kidnapper from last time, bent on revenge for his son and all the other sons of his Albanian village Mills chewed through like so much scenery. That’s about as complicated as it gets.
There’s certainly no sense of nuance or insight, and this is particularly glaring in the movie’s abysmal treatment of ethnicity. It sets up the obvious symmetry between Mills’ desire to rescue and avenge his daughter with Krasniqi’s desire to avenge his son, but then intentionally breaks it. On the one side is the white man defending civilization and rescuing an innocent. On the other side the swarthy man seeks merely a tribalistic honor-feud, recognizing and consciously dismissing the evil his son committed. The white man has the capacity for restraint, mercy, and reason; the other has only bloodlust and savagery.
But this is an action movie, not literature. And here, too, Taken 2 disappoints. Director Olivier Megaton did a passable job with the action in Colombiana — from a much better script by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen — but this is a giant mess. Whether Mills is fencing with rebar in a shadowy alley, discharging a bottomless ammo clip while running across the rooftops, or playing bumper-cars through the streets of Istanbul, the editing is choppy and nauseatingly chaotic, with no coherent sense of space.
And with so little in the way of plot to bind these lackluster action scenes together, the movie falls apart. We’re left with a scattered mess of atrociously corny dialogue, boring, nonsensical chases, and establishing shots of the Hagia Sophia. Pretty much everyone involved is capable of better than this.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.