When Taken was released, it totally changed the way that I thought about Liam Neeson. That was the moment that he went from actor to all-around bad-ass. In retrospect, there were some hints that Neeson was capable of becoming an action star; he’s no pushover in Batman Begins and I assume he was in some action sequences in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (which I’ve never actually seen). But despite those glimmers of prophesy, no one could have predicted just how good and tough he would be in Taken as a desperate father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter. On paper, the guy who played Oskar Schindler is probably not who you expect to be the next big screen tough guy – Chuck Norris and MacGyver rolled into one. Taken took him to a whole different level and put him on a whole different film trajectory. Before Taken, Neeson was just another good actor; after Taken, no one bats an eye when Neeson plays Zeus (Clash of the Titans), the leader of the A-Team, or fights a pack of wolves in the wilderness (The Grey). Hell, he could play them all at once and I’d probably buy a ticket. You tell me that you saw this career path coming in Love, Actually and I’ll laugh in your face.
When they announced that they were making Taken 2, I was positively giddy. I so enjoyed Taken that I was more than ready to watch more of Liam Neeson: ass kicking machine. I was even willing to overlook my skepticism of the premise – how much bad luck can one family have – and enjoy the thrills. When I was offered passes to the midnight screening, I was excited despite the fact that these late night showings are a young person’s game. Going to a midnight movie and then going to work at 8 am the next morning is not math that works in favor of a person over 30.
So it is with deep sadness and regret that I inform you that Taken 2 was just not that good. It wasn’t unwatchable – it wasn’t even bad – but the bloom is off the rose on this franchise. It’s a pale imitation of the first film. Watching Neeson’s family get kidnapped has lost some of its luster.
Taken 2 picks up not long after the events of Taken. The families of the men that Bryan (Neeson) killed in the first film have sworn to get their vengeance on the man who slayed their kin. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Neeson is reconnecting with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and keeping a watchful eye on his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) as she recovers from her kidnapping ordeal in Taken. Things come to a head when everyone winds up in Istanbul – Bryan is there for work, the bad guys are there to kill him and Lenore and Kim turn up to spend some quality time with Bryan and put themselves in the line of fire (because if I had just been kidnapped and was an American, I’d definitively want to vacation in Turkey). People are taken, threats are made and it’s up to Neeson to get his family out of this predicament. Cue lots of fighting, shooting, explosions and car chases.
I don’t know if I was so “taken” (ha!) with Neeson as an action superstar in the first film that I overlooked a lot of plot holes or breaks from reality, but there seemed to be a lot more things that stretch the limits of credibility in Taken 2 than in Taken. I understand that you have to check some expectations at the door with these types of movies, but Taken 2 really asks you to forgive a lot. Liam Neeson is the man, but even he can’t kill someone with one punch. Some of the story decisions are also extremely questionable; it reminded me of the old James Bond movies when instead of just killing 007, the villain would first explain his entire plan to Bond and then leave him unsupervised for a long period of time. I wasn’t the only one who was incredulous at what was happening on the big screen. There was an awful lot of chatter during the film and most of it was scoffing at what we were seeing. The guy sitting next to me must have said “seriously?” fifty times over the course of the movie. It’s fine to suspend disbelief for a while, but it shouldn’t be so distracting.
Taken 2 also suffers from being basically a rehash of the first movie. That isn’t necessarily unexpected as they are trying to cash in on the success of the first film and there are only so many ways that a person can be kidnapped, but the audience’s element of surprise is eliminated. What made Taken so successful was the novelty of seeing Neeson in this type of role and the twists and turns of the story. Taken 2 is more of the same, without that originality. The film does try to freshen it up in some ways – there are way more car chases in Taken 2 and Neeson has some assistance in this film – but that isn’t necessarily enough to prevent the viewer from feeling like they have seen it all before.
This is not to say that moments of the film are not extremely enjoyable. There are some cool sequences and Neeson does what he lately does best. There is plenty of action and lots of dead bodies. Maggie Grace is given more to do in this film. While in Taken she was simply the person that was kidnapped, she gets to be more proactive in the sequel. The movie is just the right length – 91 minutes – to keep things interesting and moving. But the lightening in the bottle that they had with the first film just isn’t there. I couldn’t help but leave the theater a little disappointed. Still love Neeson, but they may have gone to the well one too many times with this franchise.
Some other quick thoughts:
- Based on the number of people at this midnight screening, I predict that Taken 2 is going to have a very big opening weekend. This was the most people that I have seen at a late night screening since The Dark Knight. It was legitimately crowded.
- I don’t know if a 5 minute behind the scenes look at the upcoming Les Miserable film was the best choice for the Taken 2 crowd. I don’t know that the two films have a lot of audience overlap; I think I may have been the only person who was actually paying attention.
- Between that 5 minute vignette and the six (!) previews, the midnight movie didn’t actually start until 12:20. They were probably one preview away from an audience uprising.
- Speaking of previews – the one for Silent Hill: Revelation must have been five minutes long. I feel like I’ve already seen the movie.
- I’m curious – does anyone actually go to see the live Metropolitan Opera events that they have at the movie theater? They are constantly advertising these things, but I can’t think who the target audience is. If I’m not going, I can’t imagine that anyone else is.
- I liked Famke Janssen in the X-Men movies, but she really needs to work on her “waking up from being unconscious” skills. She has to do that a few times in Taken 2 and each time she acts like someone suddenly woke her up from a nap.
- I just realized that Maggie Grace also played Shannon on Lost. Don’t know how I missed that until now, but I just made the connection.
- They try to work a little humor into Taken 2 with Neeson coming to terms with his daughter having a boyfriend, but it didn’t really work and felt kind of forced. Once your daughter has almost been sold into an international prostitution ring, her dating some dude really shouldn’t faze you.
- I’m kind of disappointed that Taken 2 didn’t have a subtitle after it like most movie sequels do these days. I tried to come up with some options for them to use: Taken 2: The Takening; Taken 2: Take My Wife…..Please!; Taken 2: Istanbul Edition; Taken 2: Electric Boogaloo (I will never tire of this joke). I also came up with a tag line for the film: Take my family once, shame on you; Take my family twice, everyone dies.
- Even though I didn’t love Taken 2, I’d still put Liam Neeson down on my emergency contact form if my office would let me. All I need is his phone number.
- They left the door open for the possibility of Taken 3, but Neeson and Janssen are going to have to have a baby or something. We’re running out of family members.
Taken 2 may not have been the concentrated awesomeness that Taken was, but it still had its moments. I recommend going to see it with lowered expectations and with a large group of people so you can discuss both the ludicrousness of the story and the quality of the action. I think that they have probably milked all that they can from this particular franchise, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve tired of Neeson as an action star. They just need to offer me some more original dubious material in the future.
Taken 2 opens nationwide today.
UPDATE: I was right; based on box office returns, looks like Taken 3 is happening.