Liam Neeson certainly seems to be enjoying his total reboot as an action star for the new generation, fusing his trademark warming fraternal wiseman attitude from movies such as The Phantom Menace (if you can even call it a movie) and Schindler’s List with the grit of heroes like John McClane or Jason Bourne. Taken, from the (overlooked and misunderstood, in my opinion) French producer Luc Besson was the film that unexpectedly kickstarted his reinvention. Audiences were drawn in by Neeson’s character Bryan Mills, the ultimate manifestation of a father’s love for his daughter, who was snatched away by Albanian terrorists. While that film was a perfectly self contained story, Besson naturally decided to continue the franchise due to its sleeper cult hit status, and thus Taken 2 (Takener?) was born. Does it deliver the goods?
Neeson remains as dedicated to the role of Bryan Mills as ever, but Takener (which I shall call it for now on) is still a mess of a screenplay. Many moments are either built up with such tension, only to be suddenly relieved by conveniently placed plot devices (Sam the handyman), or such outrageous ideas that throw away common sense (I’ll just say Bryan Mills has an… interesting use for grenades.) It’s moments like these that really degrade the film to B-movie status; however, as with any B-movie, perhaps the material shouldn’t be taken (no pun intended) too seriously. However, a willingness to suspend disbelief during some of the movie’s more intense setpieces is undermined by horribly shaky camerawork, which cuts too fast and barely allows you to understand what is actually taking place. I myself found this to be very similar to the latest 007 flick, Quantum of Solace.Not to mention, the film practically follows an inverted template of the first film and follows in the vein of totally useless “rehashed” sequels such as Hangover: Part II and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. However, those movies undoubtedly have a certain charm about them (I myself prefer Lost in New York) and do serve a purpose: deliver more of the same to the fans who simply want more Home Alone or Hangover. That’s not to say that (minor) tweaks to the formula aren’t present. Sure, Fammke Jannsen’s role as the former Mrs. Mills is expanded from that of a nagging lost love in the first movie. Sure, her and Bryan are the ones to find themselves kidnapped this time, with Mills working on the inside to guide his daughter Kim (played by Maggie Grace) to their location. Sure, this location is somewhere in the slums of Istanbul rather than the grandiosity of the French countryside. And yes, a totally pointless character in Jamie is written in as Kim’s emotionless boyfriend who cannot penetrate her symbolic hymen of a father.
An actually interesting aspect of the script is the motivation of the movie’s villains; that being revenge against Mills for his actions in the first film. Inherently, revenge is an overused trope, but its place as the backbone of Taken 2 is something of a metafictional satire of violent action movies in itself. Murad Hoxha, the Albanian crimelord portrayed by Rade Šerbedžija, is genuinely heartbroken by the murder of his son, among others, in Taken. They are described as “brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons” lost in combat, and their roles in the first movie were that of relatively nondescript cannonfodder. In hyperviolent entertainment, one does not often ponder on the idea of a nameless henchman, one of hundreds falling to the gunfire of the protagonist, as leading productive lives of their own; in a sense Mills’ failure to understand his Albanian adversaries humanity in the first film caused later misfortune in his life, and it is implied by the end of the film that more bloodshed and revenge will rise out of his actions in the sequel, creating a seemingly endless Orestian cycle of violence (or, in other words, a neverending film franchise to milk the cash cow).
When it boils down to it, Taken 2 will most likely deliver to those who wish to see more of Liam Neeson kicking ass; it will fulfill its purpose for the fanboys. Liam Neeson has carved his own niche as a new age action hero, and a man of his age and repertoire should be allowed to have fun at this point. However, others will consider the movie to be the lowest point of his career: haphazard/stilted writing, rehashed ideas, and action scenes which are difficult to follow.