For years, whenever Taken has come up in conversation, people I know have had nothing but enthusiasm for and enjoyment in the sheer sensory overload of the film. For me, however, there have always been two burning issues that have made my eye twitch whenever I considered them. In the first instance, the daughter Kim is kidnapped, drugged and sold to the highest bidder; and yet she returns to her life seemingly untraumatized and with a remarkably cool head. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) also has some issues to contend with, given that he murdered droves of people and then sauntered back into the United States as if there was no cost to taking a human life. What this year’s sequel gave me is exactly what has been plaguing me since 2008: consequences.
The characters of this film are, for the most part, those from the first film reprising their roles. Neeson returns with his trademark gravelly voice, delivering lines so similar to those in the first film like, “Your mother and I are going to be taken.” Neeson reverts immediately back into the role of Bryan Mills, giving an occasional shout-out to our favorite moments and treating his character both mockingly and affectionately through his overprotectiveness of his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), and other little obsessions and quirks. The roles of Kim and her mother, Lenore (Famke Janssen), are expanded, forcing the actresses to explore their characters beyond the slight amount of screen-time they received in the last film. Lenore actually joins the action apart from simply hosting a birthday party, and Kim becomes more than the damsel in distress drugged beyond comprehension. The two surprisingly rise to the occasion, stepping into their extended characters and doing more than screaming and crying. Don’t worry though, they have not suddenly become ninja masters or sharp shooters overnight — their involvement in the action sequences are somewhat believable and they do not detract from Mills running around and destroying people as we so affectionately remember him doing.
Since, of course, Mills managed to kill nearly all the villains in the first film, new characters had to be hatched for him to fight and thus Murad Kransniqi (Rade Serbedzija) joins the cast. A man living in the same village that birthed the horrible kidnappers of the first film, Kransniqi is the father of the man Mills slaughtered so memorably through torture and electrocution in his quest for his daughter. Kransniqi and his henchmen return to find Mills and enact their revenge.
No longer in Europe, this film brings its characters to Istanbul, an absolutely beautiful set for the film and that offers narrow streets for car chases and bustling markets for shoot-outs. Director Oliver Megaton attempts a different look to his shots than Pierre Morel did with the first film, chopping up scenes and utilizing unique camera foci. Distorted, out of place, color-bled shots of boats and churches are seen as Mills tries to recount his journey through the streets. During a car chase, I could nearly feel the fear, through the camera angle, of the unlicensed driver behind the wheel zipping across railroad tracks at 100 mph. Megaton plays with an almost Guy Ritchie style to some of his shots (not Ritchie a la RocknRolla; think more Sherlock Holmes). Though I generally appreciate kinetic and unique shooting and editing, this style does not necessarily work for the Taken films and Megaton may have been better off maintaining the basic camera work of the first film rather than attempting to adopt a different approach.
Often, when going to the movies these days, critics expect to see glorious films both artistic and moving. It is in bad form to engage with anything tacky that actually entertains, as attention should be paid to that which is deep and powerful, however truly boring we may find it. Taken 2 reminded me of the flaw in that logic. It will not win any grand awards, nor is it trying to: It was created with the simple purpose to entertain its audience. I felt involved in the characters and story of the film: I cringed, I sat forward, I covered my mouth with my hands and I felt actual shivers run down my spine at one point. I am not saying it was a masterful film and that you would have to be a fool to not love it: I am simply recommending you take it at face value. It is a supremely fun piece of work and I felt refreshed and content after seeing it in a way I have not in a long time. The ending glared at you from the moment the movie began, but it was the journey getting there and the action in between that was worth the time and money. Suspend reality for a while and go with no expectations of grandeur, and Taken 2 will remind you of why movies were created in the first place: to distract and entertain.