Can the same shit happen to the same dad twice? Turns out it can, as Bryan Mills (Neeson) runs foul of shady foreigners once again. Only this time, he and his ex-wife (Janssen) are taken, and its their daughter (Grace) who must come to their aid...
At a time when iconic action heroes are few and far between, Bryan Mills stands tall — and not just because he’s 6’ 4”. He’s a taciturn, leather-jacketed super-soldier-turned-bodyguard who begins 70 per cent of his sentences with the words, “Listen to me very carefully...” He’s killed more people than you’ve had hot dinners, and probably some of them with hot dinners. Not to mention his very particular set of skills, which make him a nightmare for anyone foreign and in need of a shave. Yet there’s also an endearing awkwardness that sets him apart from all those other one-man armies. At heart he’s a worrywart, constantly fretting about his family’s safety but mostly embarrassing them in the process. The kind of guy who secretly installs a GPS chip in his daughter’s phone, and who thinks a karaoke machine will make a brilliant birthday present.
All these qualities earned Mills, as played with pleasingly poker-faced intensity by Liam Neeson, a large following when Taken came out in 2008. No-one was more surprised than Neeson himself, who recently admitted he’d expected it to go straight to DVD. Instead it made $227 million worldwide, turned him into a late-in-life action star and made the sequel an inevitability. Sadly for those fans, Taken 2 fails to go bigger, badder, better. Instead, it retains all the twitchy xenophobia of the original — sending the all-American, occasionally-Irish-accented Mills to Istanbul, another foreign city seemingly lousy with lowlifes — while dropping the ball on all the OTT action that made Taken so much fun.
Blame must be laid at the feet of director Olivier Megaton (the man behind Transporter 3 and Colombiana, replacing Taken’s Pierre Morel), who has an excellent name but fists of ham when it comes to lensing combat. Time and again Mills faces off against foes, only for the resulting scraps to unfold so confusingly — thanks to shakycam, overcranking and merciless strobe-cuts — that it appears he’s editing people to death. It might be to disguise the fact that Neeson, who’s just turned 60, isn’t exactly Jet Li. Or it could be because crucial shots have been excised to secure a 12A rating (the original was 15, with an 18 director's cut). Yet even the film’s big car chase, which recycles an oft-seen oncoming-train stunt, requires serious concentration to follow.
There’s a potentially interesting plot wrinkle, in that the villains this time aren’t random baddies but relatives of the scumbags our hero dispatched in Part 1. Accordingly, the hunter has become the hunted, as vengeful Balkan gangster Murad (Rade Sherbedgia) sets out to acquire a very particular set of Mills. With Bryan and his ex-wife kidnapped, and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace — 28 playing 19) their only hope of rescue, the set-up of the first movie is neatly inverted. But co-writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen haven’t come up with enough cool things for the beleaguered family to do. It’s enjoyably ludicrous that Mills’ method of drawing Kim to their location involves her flinging grenades around in a city centre — if more than a bit out of character for the world’s most over-protective father — but mostly what we get is a lot of yawny rooftop parkour and generic alley take-downs.
Despite the fact that the filmmakers miss a trick in not giving him a quotable speech to match his “I will find you...” monologue from the original, Neeson is still the redeeming feature. He commits to lines such as, “When a dog has a bone, the last thing you should try to do is take it from him,” as if it’s Chekhov, and invests his cartoonishly lethal character with cheerably gruff gravitas. He’s always watchable. It’s just a shame, then, that he’s stuck in such a rote adventure, pitted against a bunch of witless, bland Albanian thugs (who, after Dredd and The Expendables 2, are the third villainous gang this summer to be identifiable by their tattoos). There might still be a future for Mills — or a past; might we suggest a prequel with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s Neeson-a-like Benjamin Walker? — but it’ll need to be much better thought-out than this.
The first one offered the novel sight of Oskar Schindler going Commando. Unfortunately, this half-hearted sequel is low on novelty and lower on fun.