2008’s Taken; a down and dirty exploitation flick in which Liam Neeson’s worried father Brian Mills kills people in a variety of pleasingly violent ways to track down his kidnapped daughter, and along the way became a sort of pensioner action hero with the help of a great scene in which he makes some promises to the kidnappers. 2012’s Taken 2, directed by the implausibly named Olivier Megaton, follows much the same pattern, but takes out everything that made the first such a guilty pleasure. And as such feels very watered down and not much fun to watch.
The one interesting aspect of the plot is that the villains this time round are the families of the bad guys dispatched in the first film. It’s a neat little plot point, and gives it a nice sense of interconnectivity between the films. And also it makes sense in so far as having a completely new set of bad guys for Liam Neeson to deal with wouldn’t work. But unfortunately the villains aren’t given much to do beside be cannon fodder once Brian’s wife gets…taken. After that it’s business as usual as Brian tries to track down his wife using the stupidest system possible, involving grenades and shoelaces. It’s weird, trust me.
The problem with the film is mostly down to the decision to cut it down to get the 12A certificate; you see, the first film was a 15 and then an 18 on DVD which meant it could delight in all the violence that this sort of film needs. It’s what made it fun to watch. The first film isn’t great either but it doesn’t pretend it’s anything other than a balls to the wall one man army type film. The sequel, in trying to appeal to a wider audience, waters everything down. There’s no blood, no one seems to get injured, the sounds effects in the fight scenes are muted, Liam Neeson practically hugs the bad guys to death. The film is just as violent as an episode of the A-Team, in which famously no one ever died. Ironically the film version of the A Team, also starring Neeson, is more violent than this. For example, early on in the film, a supposedly fatal injury is inflicted on his wife; we’re meant to think it’s bad, but we don’t see what’s done to her and when we see her later the worst injury she has is a little cut along her neck, yet we were supposed to believe this was life threatening. Good filmmakers can make you believe something without actually showing you, but Taken 2 hasn’t got a good filmmaker anywhere near it.
Sadly, the performances don’t elevate the proceedings much either. Liam Neeson isn’t even phoning it in; he’s barely leaving a message on your answerphone. He looks like a man who is already bored with the whole Taken thing, and is just waiting for the paycheque. Everyone else in the film is just a blank slate, or a stereotype; either there to be captured or killed. And the ending is one of the most cringeworthy I’ve seen in a long time.
Verdict: Taken 2 tries to have its cake and eat it. Attempting to make the movie appeal to the 12A crowd, yet still have all the violence that made the first film such an unexpected hit. Unfortunately it fails miserably.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell