In “Taken 2” (2012), the Magic of the Original is All Gone


Taken 2 Poster

‘Taken 2″ is one of those sequels that has all of the ingredients of the original but none of the magic.  It’s as if in making the sequel, the filmmakers forgot the formula that made the original work.

All of the major cast from “Taken” (2008) are back in “Taken 2,” including Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a former CIA agent “preventer” who retired to be closer to his daughter, Kim (again played by Maggie Grace).  Although the unhuman heroics of her father saved her from abduction in Paris in “Taken,” Kim is still living with Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who is now going through a separation from her husband, Stuart.  This sets up the shallow and clichéd plot line of Kim trying to get her parents back together.  The villains are new because Bryan killed off everyone in the original, but they certainly seem familiar because the father (played by Rade Serbedzija) of one of victims of Bryan’s vigilante justice is now seeking revenge.  The father plots to abduct Bryan’s entire family while they are vacationing in Istanbul and kill them in front of Bryan so Bryan experience the same pain of losing a child.

This predictable plot sets up “Taken 2,” in which everything that made “Taken” an unforgettable thrill ride is gone.  Whereas the original went into high gear and never took the foot off the gas once Bryan kicked into action, the sequel never gets going.  It’s certainly perplexing why Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, both of whom returned to pen the sequel, thought it would be exciting to have Bryan captured and Kim run around Istanbul throwing grenades in order to rescue her dad.  Until Bryan is released, the movie consists of Bryan imparting his CIA skills on his daughter so she can find where he’s been taken, but the premise that Kim can find her parents in a metropolis as large as Istanbul after drawing a couple circles on a map is rather far fetched.  Granted, “Taken” had its share of implausible moments, but the difference with the original was that, unlike “Taken 2,” it never slowed down to give the audience time to dwell on such moments.

I suspect that change in director from Pierre Morel to Olivier Megaton didn’t help, because the movie doesn’t pick up the excitement even after Bryan successfully escapes with Kim’s help.  The car chase in which Kim and Bryan seek refuge in the American embassy was entirely forgettable, but even more underwhelming is when Bryan returns to where he was held captive to take out the men who abducted him.  Men go down without much resistance and worse, Bryan doesn’t have to exert much effort to find them, which makes me wonder what the point of all this is.  Part of what made the original movie so exciting was the scale in which Bryan recked havoc, both to the city of Paris and to the organization that abducted her daughter.  In “Taken 2,” Bryan is able to take out everyone after going into two buildings.  I kept on waiting for the action to pick up, and the movie ended.

Neither the screenwriters nor the director was helped by the tired performance of Liam Neeson, who was either not particularly eager to take part in this project, too old, or both.  Whereas the first half of the film suffers from not having enough of Bryan Mills, the second half of the film suffers from Bryan not being a convincing CIA operative.  The defiant and determined Bryan that was such an attractive vigilante in the original has been replaced in the sequel with an old geezer who looks as if he can’t be bothered to lift his legs to kick.

If Neeson doesn’t seem to care, then Maggie Grace suffers from trying too hard to depict a new love-hate relationship between Kim and Bryan.  The list of failures of “Taken 2” is endless, but Grace’s performance tops the list because her subtle depiction of her complicated relationship with Bryan really made the original work.  There’s nothing subtle about her clichéd efforts to get her parents back together in the sequel, a  particularly unwelcome subplot in an action flick.

And then there are the appearances of Bryan’s former CIA buddy Sam (Leland Orser) and the French inspector Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), whose contrived appearances can only be explained by the vain efforts of the screenwriters to recreate the magic of “Taken” by making these major characters from the original return.  At least Jean-Claude only returns in a cameo role. Sam keeps on making random, unnecessary and annoying appearances in the sequel.

In many ways, “Taken 2” epitomizes the lazy filmmaking that sequels tend to fall into.  Far too often, a studio hits a lightning in a bottle with a surprise hit and tries to re-create the magic by bringing back as many of the original cast and crew.  But in so doing, the people involved don’t bother to instill any originality. The result is often the same movie, told worse.  As I watched “Taken 2,” the thought that occurred to me was that I’ve seen a far better version of this movie before, a movie called “Taken.”


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