My main issue with the original Taken was the inconsistency in tone, namely the wild shifts between serious drama and escapist action entertainment. Taken 2 is atmospherically a bit more even, the heavy-handedness of human trafficking and sex slavery pushed aside in favor of a generic kidnap-and-revenge story. Does this make it better than the first film? From my viewpoint, both films are pretty much the same; they have their moments of effectiveness, and they have many, many flaws. It’s not quite worth recommending, although I certainly enjoyed it more than other recent attempts at action escapism, most notably The Cold Light of Day and The Expendables 2. One was so by-the-numbers that I quickly grew bored of it. The other was so brainless that I was very nearly insulted by it.
In actual time, three years have passed since the first film was released. In narrative time, Wikipedia tells that it has been one year since CIA agent Bryan Mills rescued his teenage daughter, Kim, from the clutches of vile human traffickers. The film itself doesn’t give us a timeframe, although it’s made apparent that the events of the previous chapter were very recent; we open with Mills’ victims being buried in Albania, and when the story proper begins in Los Angeles, we find that Kim is still living with her mother and is only just learning how to drive. Mills (Liam Neeson) remains the overprotective father he has always been. Kim (Maggie Grace) understands where her father is coming from but is desperate for him to trust her, especially now that she has a boyfriend (Luke Grimes). During these scenes, it’s established that Mills and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), still have feelings for one another.
In a convenient twist of fate, Mills is sent away on business in Istanbul where, unbeknownst to him, he’s being watched by thugs working for Murad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedž ija). This would be the father of Marko Hoxha, who kidnapped Kim in the previous film before Mills tracked him down and killed him. Ever since his son’s death, the elder Hoxha has had nothing apart from revenge on his mind. Although it’s established that he assembled a team of hitmen to locate Mills’ whereabouts, his methods of surveillance and detection are left a little obscure, and it’s never adequately explained how it is he knew Mills would be in Istanbul at that particular time. The way it’s handled, Hoxha and his men just sort of appear out of nowhere and spring into action like well-trained undercover agents. I suppose it’s pointless to dwell on the fact that Hoxha and all his men speak fluent English, even to each other when not in public.
In another convenient twist of fate, Kim and Lenore surprise Mills by arriving in Istanbul with plans for a pleasant family vacation. This never happens; despite the fact that Mills picks up on the fact that he’s being followed, and despite all efforts to stay out of sight, both Mills and Lenore are kidnapped by Hoxha’s men. Kim, who opted to stay in the hotel room to give her parents some private time, is contacted by Mills via two cell phones, one of which is a square-shaped emergency communication device devoid of the usual bells and whistles, including a traditional keypad. His instructions and her precise following of them allow for a few scenes that are admittedly clever; even when blindfolded and locked in a dark room, Mills can rely on ambient noises, subtle movements, and the act of counting to approximate his location, which Kim zeros in on by drawing circles on a map. But a description hardly does it justice. You have to see the film to know what I’m talking about.
One of my major criticisms of this film is that every action sequence is an exercise in atrocious editing and camerawork. Much of the stunt choreography is all but obscured by lightning-quick cuts and the use of the Queasy Cam, which is rapidly starting to wear out its welcome in all genres. It doesn’t help that Romain Lacourbas’ cinematography is muddy and dim; that can sometimes be effective for a stationary scene, but when there’s a lot of frenetic movement, it often looks as if important shots are unfairly being concealed in shadow. So even if you appreciate hand-to-hand combat and some light displays of martial arts, chances are this movie isn’t going to do much of anything for you. Visually speaking, director Olivier Megaton does a slightly better job with an obligatory car chase, which, ironically, sees Kim behind the wheel. Of course, it then becomes an issue of plausibility and unintentional silliness.
Mills’ final confrontation with Hoxha is a real piece of work. When it begins, the two men take part in a hilariously unconvincing verbal exchange. As it finishes, it goes for the physical altercation we knew had been coming all along. Even after the film cuts to the epilogue, we’re left with the feeling that, had Megaton and writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen put in just a little more effort, the climactic showdown could have been a very entertaining, very funny parody. That would mean, of course, that the entire film would have to be reworked in the same way. Indeed, both Taken 2 and its predecessor are so innately preposterous that they’re practically begging to be spoofed. Give it a few years. I’m sure Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are already working on it.
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20th Century Fox