Monday, 8 October 2012

Movies - Taken 2 review

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

Dir: Olivier Megaton
Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija
Running Time: 91 mins
Taken is the high point of Luc Besson's Euro-actioner production line, which has been churning out enjoyable but unspectacular genre far like Colombiana for a good ten years now. The movie not only made the most of Liam Neeson's then-latent badass qualities, previously hinted at in his performance as one of the few palatable parts of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but served as a hilarious French satire on the paranoid American foreign policy of the Bush era.
With the presidency having changed hands shortly after the first movie's release in 2008 and Obama making efforts to be less visibly belligerent than his predecessor, one of Taken's most identifiable pleasures looks to have been lost. The lowered age rating - R to PG-13 in America; 15 to 12 in the UK - is also a concern for everyone who enjoyed the balls-out mercilessness of Bryan Mills' first rampage through Europe. Taken 2 never overcomes these problems, settling into the kind of proficient mediocrity which is a staple of Besson's action output.
The movie gets around the troublesome prospect of Mills having his family taken for a second time by framing the plot as a consequence of his actions in the original movie. It turns out the gangsters who kidnapped daughter Kim last time out also had families, ones significantly less whiny and rather more vindictive when it comes to the matter of avenging their executed relatives. It's a simple device, but one which gives a satisfying nod to the cause-and-effect logic so often ignored in action movies. The villains are developed no further than one of the being old and having a beard, but their motivations are immediately understandable and gives the action the opportunity to get moving without delay.

Unfortunately it's an opportunity missed, because it takes the better part of an hour before Bryan Mills and his ex-missus are finally apprehended on the streets of Istanbul. Bryan's family life was far and away the most tedious part of the original movie, existing only to justify his righteous fury as he hunted for his kidnapped daughter, but there's no such purpose this time around. Although more assertive and self-sufficient, Maggie Grace's Kim is as annoyingly vapid as ever, having apparently given up on her dreams of being a singer in favour of a more mundane existence learning how to drive and getting laid by a young man with a pube beard.
It would have been easy for the movie to pick up immediately with the Mills' arrival in Istanbul, then have them be taken five or ten minutes later. The driving test material is there solely for a joke in which she has to lead a car chase through the city, and her onset of adolescent horniness (and Maggie Grace is less convincing than ever as a teenage, especially since she's now four years older than last time) to show Bryan that he needs to learn to give his daughter more space to grow up. Even though she's already a twenty-nine year old teenager. Go figure, as Americans are wont to say.
Once the action finally gets going, the movie puts her to good use, reversing the situation from the previous movie by having her rescue her parents. The way in which Bryan helps her gradually narrow down his location is utterly ludicrous - the Turkish police don't seem to give a stuff that a bikini-clad American is tossing grenades across the city - but fun to watch nevertheless. Throwing her into a car chase doesn't make any use of her supposed ineptitude behind the wheel, to the extent that she pulls off several advanced evasive manouevres at her father's instruction, but the set-piece is entertaining enough regardless. Less impressive is a scene in which villains pursue her on foot over the city's rooftops: the surroundings are gorgeous, but director Olivier Megaton shoots the action at a pedestrian pace and fails to generate any sense of danger.

The increased emphasis on Kim means less time in the company of her father, a most unwelcome exchange. Neeson's Bryan is as entertainingly gruff as before, but is given no more than a handful of opportunities to show his hand-to-hand fighting skills, of which both encounters are over-edited into incoherence. There's plenty of shooting, but everyone in every actioner ever has fired a machine gun. Bryan is at his most thrilling when demonstrating how his particular set of skills can transform a slightly melancholy sixty-year old into a one man takedown machine. As a character he remains as sketchy as ever, but gets a nice moment near the end when he offers to let the main villain go in exchange for a promise to end the blood feud once and for all. Optimistically, I'd like to imagine this is a continuation of the original's foreign policy subtext, acknowledging Obama's belief that violent retaliation often turns into a never-ending cycle, despite his apparently being unable to restrain himself anyway, but there's little in the rest of the movie to bear out such a reading.

Taken 2 has its moments of silly fun and Liam Neeson is every bit as cheerworthy as before, but the absence of any substantial satirical subtext saps any trace of humour (intentional or otherwise) from the movie, and the noticeably tamer violence feels every bit like the compromise it is. In every important respect bar the occasionally impressive cinematography, capturing some lovely shots of Istanbul, it's a lesser movie than its predecessor. The high box-office numbers suggest a third movie will probably be at least suggested, despite Liam Neeson's belief otherwise, but after only one sequel, the idea already feels like it has already been taken far enough. [ 5 ]




Silent Hunter said...

Of course, you see the similarity between this and 24, right?

Xander Markham said...

Of course, although Taken was satirising the attitudes which 24 treated as strong and commendable.

Silent Hunter said...

You sure it was deliberate satire and not just a ridiculous movie? ;-)