“Taken 2” Falls Flat
If I did not have a minimum word count to meet, I would refuse to put more effort into writing about “Taken 2” than was put into writing the film’s script and simply say that it should be avoided at all costs. But I do, and so I am in the unenviable position of having to do an in-depth review of a film with no depth whatsoever.
In the last film, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) ended up slaughtering his way through an Albanian sex slavery ring in order to save his daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life. This installment opens with a funeral for Bryan’s deserving victims during which one of their fathers swears revenge.
From there, we return to America for our perfunctory scenes of Bryan and his family trying to move on. We learn that Bryan and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are on extremely good terms, that her current husband has proven to be something of a scumbag, and that this somehow results in Bryan bringing his ex and daughter to Istanbul for a vacation. Once in Istanbul, the revenge-seeking villains arrive, and it’s off to the races.
Once the action starts, characterization stops. The above paragraph is all we are given to define who these people are and why we should care about what happens to them. To call them cardboard would be to insult perfectly fine packing material. They are defined entirely by what the plot needs them to do at any given time.
On top of that, some of the action sequences break the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. I can accept car chases, gun battles, and the like as long as they make sense within the context of the world the film has presented. I cannot accept, however, that someone can run across rooftops while setting off multiple hand grenades without any kind of police response or acknowledgment.
Some of this might have been forgivable if the action was entertaining. Frankly, this film should serve as a shining example of how not to shoot fight scenes. The quote that immediately comes to mind when attempting to describe them is, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Said idiot, who goes by the hilariously overblown name of Olivier Megaton, apparently believes that simply showing lots of quick movement, cutting multiple times per second, and inserting a bunch of bone-crunching sound effects makes a fight exciting. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect—it is disorienting and forces the viewer to try to figure out what’s going on. When the viewer has to analyze a supposedly thrilling action scene just to figure out where all the loud noises are coming from, they are not being thrilled by it, and therefore the action scene is a dud. The film is boring.
Part of the problem is the movie’s failure to stop for breath. Hyper-extended fight sequences can and have been done well—for a fantastic example, see Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins”—but only when a set of conditions are met. First, the audience must care about what happens on screen enough that they become emotionally invested in the proceedings. Second, there has to be a little bit of ebb and flow. When a film maintains an unchanging fever pitch for too long, that pitch becomes a meaningless wall of noise. Third, the action must be coherent enough that the audience can make sense of what is going on. “Taken 2” fails all three of these conditions—the last hour of its 90 minute runtime can be summed up as, “Liam Neeson beats people up, gets in chases, and runs through dark hallways. Rinse and repeat.” There is no variety or change in the tempo, and rather than being compelling, this intensity starts to feel like a bludgeon.
The actors do a decent job, given the circumstances. Liam Neeson is suitably gruff and grizzled, Famke Janssen is appropriately distressed, and Maggie Grace manages to communicate the single dimension of her role fairly effectively. The lead villain, played by Murad Krasniki, comes across as a standard off-the-shelf baddie.
Aside from the acting, this film is a mess. Its plot is contrived, its fights are nonsensical, its setpieces are cliché, and its characters are completely flat. When Bryan growled, “I am tired of it all,” I found myself nodding my head in fervent agreement.