Taken 2 – Stay Home Instead

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Not only the filmmakers but the audience too can be blamed for the deadening frustration of watching Taken 2. Moviegoers can ordinarily hope to be entertained in a comparatively intelligent manner, but they should not have high expectations for a cash-grab sequel of a flawed, grimy B-movie.

Taken at least delivers Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a mean wrecking machine of a security consultant. He stars in a series of outlandish set pieces that are viscerally exciting but severely lacking intellectually and highly questionable in their international and gender politics.

If you haven’t seen its weekly airings on television, it’s about Mills violently taking down the Albanian sex trafficker thugs who kidnap his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) during a Paris vacation with her friend. The plot for the sequel—spoiler!—is that Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get snatched by relatives of those traffickers at the start of an impromptu family vacation in Istanbul.

This is an eye-roll of a conceit, but any movie should be entitled to some suspension of disbelief if it can present its plot  in a tonally consistent and logical manner.

There were two things I was looking for in this movie: some development or agency for the Kim character, and, for lack of a better term, “ownage,” by Neeson and hopefully Grace as well. Taken 2 does not hold up either part of this bargain, given the basic premises demanded of any sequel to the initial story, and its many flaws cannot be overlooked.

At the end of the first film, after Kim has undergone a horrifying ordeal, Bryan sets her up with singing lessons with a generic pop star whose life he has saved. At the beginning of the second film, Kim is still taking music lessons, and now driving lessons as well (Grace is 29 years old, and it is not certain what age she’s supposed to be getting away with here).

But apparently her dad didn’t insist on teaching her any sort of defensive skills, although he has to take out dozens of men in order to rescue her. There are some perfunctory scenes in Los Angeles of this fractured family, including some surprising acknowledgments of Bryan’s obsessive nature.

It’s immediately apparent in these early, simple dialogue scenes that the director, Olivier Megaton (his name is perhaps the best part of the movie), intentionally chose to not shoot anything resembling a watchable movie: the camera appears to be on the exterior ring of a gimbal in what should just be standard tripod-shot, reverse-shot scenes.

Everything is punched up for no reason whatsoever. Of course in this filmic world, the Americans just have to be terrorized by foreigners in an exotic locale, so for the flimsiest and most ill-conceived-of reasons, Kim and Lenore leave L.A. to join Bryan in Istanbul as he wraps up a business trip.

It’s not worth deconstructing how the main bad guy (Rade Serbedzija)—of the many anonymous bad guys in the film—manages suddenly to have leverage for revenge over Mills and his family, but Bryan and Lenore are both kidnapped within a day, while Kim is relaxing back at the hotel.

The brief car chase and mass-attack fight sequence that lead to this are boring and lazy. The first fight scene, which should be the “getting to the fireworks factory” moment of the movie, is hampered by camerawork and editing that needlessly speed it up and cut around the action. There’s no real sense of danger or skill involved. Bryan, just as he does in the first movie, manages to warn Kim via cell phone, but this time he’s the one being kidnapped. What a twist!

Grace does the most she can with this role, but essentially she acts as an errand girl in rescuing her father, and he has to talk her through everything. She’s competent only when given instruction and encouragement, for example when she is magically shown to possess stunt-driver skills in another boring car chase later on.

Janssen is portrayed as the victim in this film, which continues the Hollywood tradition of women being tortured. There’s a sequence where her captor’s slow, agonizing molesting of her is used as a pacing device, as Bryan almost lackadaisically tries to find his way back to her—even though he literally does have a map showing where she is.<please check edit. Does this mean where he is?> It’s some truly appalling filmmaking. <cut next sentence? Do we really need this spoiler?>(Sorry, spoiler alert, the action hero does escape).

There are so many ways in which Taken 2 could be cited in a paper for a gender studies class—the film could be subtitled More Aggressive Jingoistic Patriarchy—but it’s also just plain boring. The “big fight” is between Neeson and a man much shorter and heavier than him, as if the casting agent knew in advance that the film wasn’t even trying. There’s even a dub step song over the credits for no reason.

I feel that reviews should help the reader in some way, and beyond my recommendation that you avoid Taken 2, I will say that you would be better served by streaming some other 2012 films that do what it can’t even aspire to: the gorgeous, haunting, and existential Turkish police procedural Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and the action-packed and smart Haywire, featuring Gina Carano as a strong female lead.