Film Review: Taken 2
In the first Taken, Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) was a father killing his way up a chain of evil men to rescue is daughter. The movie was primal. Any parent or anyone who imagined being a parent latched on to Brian’s journey. And Brian was audaciously violent against human traffickers, so every brutality he levied on them was met by the audiences applause of justice. Every father wants to believe that should anything bad happen to their child, that they could be Brian and exact the furious anger of vengeance on the evil men.
I bring this up because this element was essential to understanding Taken’s success. Yes, it had good performances and quality action directing, but it was that chord that it struck in the collective feeling of movie-goers. And it is important to know this to understand why Taken 2 fails in many respects.
The second movie is not a bad film. It just falls desperately short of the bar set by the first movie. The story begins with the family of the Albanian human trafficking syndicate swearing revenge on Brian and his family. Brian is still overprotective of a more in-control, but damaged Kim (Maggie Grace) and he is trying to mend his relationship with his ex-wife Lennore (Famke Jansen). He takes a job doing security in Istambul, where Kim and Lennore decide to visit. But this is where the syndicate strikes and destruction ensues.
What the movie does right is remind us that we like Brian, especially when he kicks butt. It seams like a long wait until he starts smashing people’s faces in. It also gets us inside Brian’s head in how he figures out ways to overcome his enemies. At one point, we enter his head as he tries to determine his location by listening and counting while blindfolded in a van. The movie also moves Kim away from being a complete victim. She is still infantilized a bit in the beginning (she still doesn’t know how to drive?), but the movie allows her to be an active and essential part of helping her family. Grace smartly doesn’t turn Kim into a Sarah Connor. She is terrified but brave as she pushes runs on rooftops and throws grenades.
But the movie gets more wrong than it gets right. The focus of Brian’s mission is his ex-wife. While the affections are there and we believe it, it cannot compete with the raw desperation of the first movie. It’s not that Neeson’s performance is bad, but you can see the lack of intensity this time around. The development of his relationship with Kim is a good idea, but it turns out that this mostly consists of this dialogue over and over again:
Brian: Do it!
Kim: I can’t!
Brian: Do it!
In one car chase, I think this exchange happens at least a dozen times.
But the real sin of the movie is the shakey-cam. Too many directors use it without understanding how and why. Spielberg used in Saving Private Ryan to convey the chaos of the storming of Normandy. He was trying to show the chaos of war, not show off an action sequence. I blame mainly Paul Greengrass and his take on the Bourne movies. This was taken to ridiculous lengths in the Bond film Quantum of Solace. The problem with shakey-cam is that it is coupled with a rapid fire succession of edits that only add to the confusion.
There is a scene where Brian takes on 5 guys with metal battons. I remember saying to pretty lady sitting next to me (my wife), “That fight is cool. I wish I could see what was going on.” Shakey-cam is the refuge of a director that is insecure in his ability to effectively film action. It only gives you an impression of action, not the thing itself.
And shakey-cam is ugly.
With all of this in mind, if you like spending time with the characters from the first film, then Taken 2 is for you. If not, you might want to wait for Netflix.
2 and ½ out of 5 stars.