The leaves are turning, people are dusting off their jackets, and there’s pumpkin spice everything, which means only one thing: Neeson season. We kick off the most wonderful time of the year with what might be one of the most unexpected sequels of the year, Taken 2. Audiences thrilled to the the suspense and two-fisted Dad-assery (He’s a bad-ass Dad. See what I did there?) of the first film, but what of the sequel? Do we have another solid action flick on our hands, or should we not even bother filling out a missing persons report?
In the first Taken, we meet Brian Mills (Liam Neeson), ex-CIA operative turned part-time bodyguard, divorcee, and doting father. When his daughter (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped by Albanian sex-traffickers during a European vacation, he goes on a city-wide chase across Paris to save his daughter, kill the bad guys, and avoid the police. Many dead Albanians and a few explosions later, everyone’s safe and sound, and back in the good old US & A. Fast forward to Albania, where the fore-mentioned dead Albanians receive a decent burial, and a promise of vengeance at the hands of none other than Rade Serbedzija (as in Boris the Blade, as in Boris the Bullet Dodger). After we get some insight of the complicated yet improving family life of the Mills’ (Driving lessons! Reconciliation! Boyfriends!), we are whisked away on a business turned family trip to Istanbul (not Constantinople), where the plot thickens, namely by the former Mr. and Mrs. Mills being kidnapped by vengeful Albanian mobsters.
As I had mentioned earlier, this was, at least to me, a most unexpected sequel. Not necessarily unwanted, as I was a big fan of the first movie, but unexpected nonetheless. After all, as Oscar Wilde might say, “To get kidnapped once is a misfortune. To get kidnapped twice seems like carelessness.” I’m sure the producers thought of this as well, and in a moment that instantly defines the movie industry, leaped up and said, “What if the PARENTS got kidnapped!?” Imagining this scenario instantly put me on the defensive so to speak, and I approached this movie with a hint of cynicism. A cynicism that, I must admit, was mostly misplaced.
One of the biggest things I was impressed by in this movie was the self-awareness it had. The movie was only about an hour and forty minutes long, setting and maintaining a good pace for virtually all aspects of the movie, both in the action and non-action sequences. In the whole film, there maybe only two instances of cornball explosions and/or general Michael Bay-esque shenanigans. Other than that, you had clean, no nonsense, realistic fighting, stunts, and such. Even the action stuff they had the daughter doing was, if nothing else, kept to a minimum, with the possible exception of the capable yet kinda silly car chase in the movie. But one must remember, we are dealing with a PG-13 action flick, so considering that, the film conducted itself very nobly in the action department, as well as the acting and cinematography category. The keen cinephile will notice at least two references to the 2011 movie Drive, perhaps done to establish the movie’s European/Indie-style sensibility. Taken 2 also boasts one of the coolest bathhouse fight scenes this side of Eastern Promises, despite the fact that everyone has their clothes on. The story is also capably done, given the fact we’re pretty much getting a rehash of the first Taken.
While we’re on the subject of Taken, we might as well do a comparison between the first one and Taken 2. Storywise, you are pretty much getting the same movie, so take that as you will. I was disappointed to see a decline in the amount of “spy-stuff” done in this one, perhaps brought on by not having to evade police capture, or at least not having any difficulty doing so. There isn’t really that much of an increase in action, so take that as you will as well. I did find myself on the edge of my seat as much as I was watching the first one, so good on them for that. The only other difference that I seemed to notice was that I sensed a slight loss of class. It might be the stigma associated with sequeldom, it might be the simple flip-flop for a plot, it might be as simple as the transition from Paris to Istanbul, it might be all of these. However, falling slightly short of the first in some aspects makes this movie bad by no means at all.
Taken 2 is a solid action movie that holds its own as a sequel, and is just plain good as a movie in and of itself. It’s not mind-bogglingly good, but it’s dependably, tested and true good. It doesn’t mess around, it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, it just does its thing, and does it well. Unadulterated action junkies might find that there’s too many talking bits, and the intellectual/thriller crowd might find there’s too much gun-play for their taste, but for those of us that ask, “Why can’t we have both?”, we find a good balance between the dramatic and action parts of the movie.