Back in 2008 the original Taken was one of the most enjoyable fast-paced thrillers of its year. Casting Liam Neeson in the role of a overly-possessive dad/former CIA agent was a stroke of genius. The dour-faced actor tore his way through an Armenian human trafficking ring in a bid to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Now, four years later, the Armenians are out for revenge, and this time Bryan Mills (Neeson) must work with his daughter to undo their dastardly plans.
Set in Istanbul, Taken 2 establishes a promising prognosis for Mills. Still on very good terms with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Jansse), he offers for her and their daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to come out to Istanbul to get away from the stresses of their home life. Upon arrival, the ‘broken’ family appear to start rekindling, with Mills connecting with both daughter and ex-wife.
Inevitably, this gets shattered when Armenian gang leader Murad (Rade Serbedzija) sends his goons out to find Mills and kill him and his family for all of the gang members he killed back in 2008. Both Bryan and his wife get kidnapped, while his daughter gets away and is determined to do what she can to help.
This semi-split plot works well, with the action being carried out on two fronts for a good chunk of the film. Capitalising on the success of its predecessor, Taken 2 affords to be more self-conscious, with Neeson’s dry-voiced punchlines being enjoyed disproportionately by much of the audience in the cinema. So much so you could’ve mistaken it for a comedy.
Indeed, there definitely is a heightened sense of silliness in Taken 2, marked by such scenes as the daughter letting off grenades around Istanbul so that Bryan can work out how far away she is by how long it takes him to hear the bang. What the film loses in grit, it makes up for in raw enjoyability.
As you’d expect, this film is very much the Neeson show, with seemingly all characters aside from Bryan’s daughter being packaged neatly into their archetypal roles. Of course, with someone as distinctly watchable as Neeson, you don’t really need to shine the spotlight elsewhere, but the talents of Janssen and Serbedzija are certainly underused.
While it is a great touch to give Kim her chance to help her daddy out, Bryan’s wife (what’s her name again?) gets reduced to a semi-conscious ragdoll for much of the film, with her usually passed-out body being dangled around for Bryan to chase after. Similarly one-dimensional is Murad, who never evokes the cunning and intelligence to really give our hero a run for his money.
The action sequences in the film are your usual thriller fare, although placing it in the historical side-streets of Istanbul does give it a welcome touch of cine-tourism. Watching the film’s main chase sequence – where learner-driver Kim takes the wheel while Bryan shoots – in the cobbled streets of Istanbul brings back memories of The Italian Job for its setting and comicality, which is no bad association to have.
Where the action suffers is in the lack of threat that the enemy poses to Bryan and his family. It’s admirable when efforts are taken in the genre to ensure the protagonist is given an element of vulnerability. This would have been an easy thing to do with an ageing actor like Neeson, and would’ve made the film more of an edge-of-seat affair. In fairness, director Olivier Megaton clearly made the decision here to give the film that comical twist which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Nonetheless, a bit of suspense should be integral to a film in this genre. As it stands, we feel from the start that nothing can stop Neeson once he gets into gear.
Like its predecessor, Taken 2 is certainly one of the best action films of the year. It differs from its predecessor by making Neeson’s now-familiar character more comically deadpan than before, and this keeps the film’s momentum of enjoyability high at all times. The fact that Neeson has to battle his way out of captivity together with his daughter makes for one of the most unconventional father-daughter bonding experiences on film in recent years, and it’s just a shame that Janssen wasn’t given a larger part to play so we could’ve seen the whole family working together to kick some ass. Unless they’re saving that for the third Taken film, which we’d all be very open to…