Without hesitation, I can say that the original 2008 Taken is one of the most viscerally entertaining action thrillers of the past ten years. There’s something satisfying on a primal level about watching Liam Neeson, as former CIA operative Bryan Mills, kicking ass in such an uncompromising manner. He works so well in the role because we somehow believe him, largely due to his formidable acting skill, even when the action onscreen is over the top. Despite decidedly mixed reviews, the film became an enduringly popular hit.
While I suppose a sequel was inevitable, it’s surprising how
uninspired Taken 2 is—especially
considering the return of the original’s screenwriters, Luc Besson and Robert
Mark Kamen. After directing the first one, Besson handed the directorial reins
to Olivier Megaton (who helmed Besson and Kamen’s previous collaboration, Columbiana). While the action moves along
at a pretty good pace after a perfunctory first act, shortcomings in the
storytelling run rampant. For one thing, Besson and Kamen didn’t bother cooking
up a scenario that varied significantly from the first film. Bryan is overseas
in Istanbul with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and their daughter Kim
(Maggie Grace) when Murad, the father of one of Bryan’s victims from the first film,
enacts a revenge plan.
Rade Šerbedžija portrays Murad, the Albanian mafia honcho who hasn’t gotten over the loss of his son. He won’t stop until he has murdered Bryan and his family. Why Bryan is reunited with Lenore, who was already remarried in the first film and remains so in this one, is only the first of many hard-to-swallow plot elements. Another implausible aspect is Kim’s cavalier attitude about being in a foreign country after the unthinkable trauma she experienced in the first film. But there she is, enjoying the apparently rekindled relationship between her parents. Of course, the happy feelings quickly turn to stunned disbelief once Murad and his men are after the Mills family.
The most noteworthy new idea is that Bryan and Lenore are
initially taken this time around, with Kim having to jump into her father’s
shoes in order to help free them. But the way the story is structured, Bryan is
forced to abandon Lenore on a couple different occasions, leaving her helpless.
It’s hard to accept that he would do that. Once he and Kim begin working as a
team, the film finds its groove. The middle section of the film proves to be
the most exciting by far. The third act deflates the tension rather abruptly,
and we learn a bit about how that happened in the alternate ending included in
the disc’s special features (more on that below).
No problems to report with the Blu-ray presentation. Romain Lacourbas’ 35mm cinematography looks exactly as it should—film-like. As such, there’s a very fine layer of grain visible that adds a little bit of welcome grittiness to the visuals. This is simply a terrific 1080p transfer that shows off the Turkish scenery to very positive effect. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is equally awesome. No channel goes underused, with plenty of directional effects during the car chase sequences. Everything from explosions to punches carries plenty of heft, with the LFE channel providing lots of bottom. The mix sounds engaging at every level, with a perfect balance of music, effects, and dialogue.
Two cuts of Taken 2 are offered, the theatrical and an unrated cut. The unrated version runs a few minutes longer, but don’t expect major differences. I saw this in theaters, yet couldn’t really tell what was added. More interesting is the alternate ending (more accurately an alternate extended lead-in to the ending), which I mentioned earlier helps explain why the film’s third act feels so incomplete. A text introduction from director Megaton explains that this 20-minute sequence was changed after test audiences questioned Bryan’s motivation. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that the alternate version offers a slightly more dubious decision by Bryan in his pursuit of Murad. Comparing the two demonstrates just how unfocused the filmmakers were, unsure of how to even justify Bryan’s actions.
A few deleted scenes are included, none of which are especially interesting. The “Black Ops Field Manual” option (available only with the unrated cut) keeps a running tally at the top of the screen of how many people Bryan has killed, how many he’s injured, and how many miles he has traveled. There are also some pop-up trivia notes and character bios throughout. There’s also a five-minute “FX Movie Channel Presents” interview with Liam Neeson. Not a lot to get excited about, to be honest.
With talk of a possible Taken 3, the obvious question after watching this first sequel is whether or not the concept can really support an on-going franchise. I say they might as well bring it on, because Neeson is so magnetic in the role. But it needs a true overhaul, with some fresh ideas, for another sequel to work better than Taken 2. There are a few fun sequences in Taken 2, but its weaknesses ultimately serve as reminders of just how great the original was.