IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Bryan Mills is performing a security mission in Istanbul. He is surprised to be met by his daughter Kim and his ex-wife Lenore at the hotel. He is unaware that the bad guys from the first movie are seeking revenge for the death of their brothers and sons at his very hands. He had to free his daughter from a human trafficking organisation by killing these men. Now they are prepared to ambush him in Istanbul by interrogating someone that knows him. While Bryan and Lenore leave Kim at the hotel, they are stalked by the evil Albanians and eventually captured. Bryan must communicate with his daughter over the phone to try and determine his own location, escape and then finish the villians once and for all…..
If you’ve been reading my reviews on this website for quite a while, you’ll be used to me moaning about some things that are prevalent in films at the moment and that I really disike, but there have been pleasures to balance the bad things out, and one of these is the re-emergence of Liam Neeson, an actor I’ve always enjoyed watching, as an aging action star. This was primarily done to a modest but very successful movie called Taken in 2008, where he tore through Paris trying to rescue his daughter from a human slavery ring, and, though his films since then have certainly entertained, it seems that fans really wanted him to reprise the role of Bryan Mills, the ex-CIA with a special set of skills who will stop at nothing to save members of his family from harm. I wasn’t too sure whether I wanted a sequel myself, even though for me the first film was probably the greatest guilty pleasure of its year, and word seems to already around that this second film is a poor effort [though the first picture got mostly poor reviews by uptight and sometimes overly politically correct critics]. In any case, it’s got the awesome Neeson in another city kicking arse, so how bad can it really be?
It certainly begins interestingly, with us being shown that Mills killed so many people in the first movie that a transport plane is needed to airlift their bodies home and a mass burial is required to dispose of them. Action movies really account for all the corpses left strewn around, though you may remember when the first Austin Powers film had a great gag in a related vein. After this Taken 2 proceeds in a similar manner to the first, with much mediocre dialogue between Mills, his wife Lenore and his daughter Grace, except that Mill’s protective urge has an unwelcome bit of creepiness when he bursts in on his daughter making out with her boyfriend. Sadly though it quickly becomes obvious that this movie just doesn’t have a decent director with the endless aerial shots [and yes, I like aerial shots, but not an absurd number of them]. For a while virtually every scene, even short, seems to open with a bloody aerial shot, as if everyone is being pursued by a fleet of helicopters. When the action kicks into gear though, the aerial shots start to mostly disappear, to be replaced by…..
Yes. You know it. Lots of quick cuts and close-ups where you can’t see what’s going on. I’ve whinged about this dreadful trend in modern action [and increasingly in horror] many times before so I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but honestly, what is the bloody point? There’s an early sequence where Mills is looking for Lenore, and after much rushing around enters a courtyard where a group of nasty henchmen surround him. The music adds the right feel and Neeson busts some decent moves, but you can’t really see them, and what should be a decent martial arts brawl is simply a nuisance. A nice and lengthy car chase is reduced so much to a mass of one second close-ups of faces, one-second close-ups of parts of the vehicles and shaking the camera around that it’s just a blur, and not only were my eyes sore but I felt that I was on the verge of having a headache. It doesn’t make the scene more exciting, it just shows that Oliver Megaton is an especially incompetent film director, albeit one of many. Look at the first Taken; helmer Pierre Morel did employ this style, but only in a few short passages to enhance matters, which is how, for the most part, it should be used. I can only think of Michael Bay [ love him or hate him, he knows how to do his action], Paul Greengrass [well, up to Green Zone] and the late lamented Tony Scott who do this kind of thing well.
Of course it doesn’t help that Taken 2 has been cut to get a ‘12’ rating, and though the BBFC’s website says that only three brief moments had to be toned down, it looks like the film has been hacked to bits even before it reached the UK. It’s obvious that punches and kicks have been edited on the point of impact and sometimes it’s hard to even tell what has happened. Anyone with a musical ear will notice music edits, even one during a non-action scene. Between Megaton’s abysmal directing and the censor cuts, Taken 2 is seriously handicapped, not to mention that the edits were at the behest of the distributors to achieve the lower rating. I’m so tired of this obsession with the ‘PG-13’ and ’12A’ certificates, but what is even more depressing is that films of a higher rating seem to do less and less well these days. I don’t know what the answer is, and it’s certainly not within the remit of what should be a straight-forward review for me to propose one, but it’s a very sad state of affairs at the moment.
If you ignore the action, Taken 2 is quite good fun, honestly [says the critic who’s been mostly complaining about it so far]. What action you can see is mostly derivative [look out for Eraser’s car/train gag yet again] but Grace has a neat window-ledge bit aka The Bourne Identity which is quite exciting. The film is a lighter affair than the first one, the pace is even faster and the script, while it does have its silly bits, does score points for not just repeating events we’ve seen before. There’s one early section of the film when Mills is the one who is kidnapped, and it’s young Grace who has to come and save him. These scenes manage to be both clever and stupid at the same time; the way Mills learns the location of where he is being held is especially noteworthy, but it’s also incredibly dumb how the bad guys didn’t find Mills’ phone on him and he can use it to text Grace. I will say right now though that Neeson [who looks about 50, not 60] is as totally cool as ever, even when not given any memorable lines this time round. He’s totally, wonderfully, badass, yet lends the part a considerable dignity. There’s a nice little scene near the end between him and the main villain which I actually wish had been longer, as it reveals a weariness in Mills, and it’s interesting to see. I also couldn’t stop thinking, as with the first film, that if all CIA agents were as good as Mills we’d have no terrorists running free whatsoever after a few weeks.
The music for Taken 2 is by Nathaniel Méchaly, and it’s not really a bad effort, but is yet again another action score that uses Japanese taiko drums, or something sounding like them. In the last three months I have heard four scores employing them [The Dark Knight Rises, Total Recall, Looper and this]. What the hell is the obsession with these drums? What is the obsession with making every action score sound the same? All in all, Taken 2 is an okay film and it could have been a lot worse, but it does have many of the worst features of films at the moment, from incoherent action to cutting down to a lower rating to bleeding taiko drums to others I haven’t mentioned. And Megaton; well, as with The Red Siren and Columbiana, the film is watchable in spite of him, not because of it. This hack ruined one franchise with Transporter 3, and may have ruined another with this film, so what next? Bond? Oh no, hang on a minute, Marc Forster came close to already doing that….