Friday, 16 January 2015

Taken 2 (2012) - Movie Review

With the release of the third film in the Taken series now out, I find myself in a similar position to when Mockingjay came out late last year and needing to catch up a bit. Having not seen the first Taken film in several years, I went back and revisited that one first and… have to admit, it’s a lot better than I remember it being. Maybe it’s with the benefit of hindsight, but re-watching it definitely gave the impression that this was a film that warranted the success it had with Liam Neeson giving something of a career rejuvenating performance as the lead. However, given the severe case of sequelitis Hollywood suffers from, something has become very clear: A film being good on its own is by no means a guarantee that whatever follow-ups said film gets will be good. Sure, some films will be just as good as the original and sometimes may even surpass the original (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and How To Train Your Dragon 2 from last year were great examples of this), but it sadly isn’t always the case.

The plot: Brian Mills (Liam Neeson), his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) are targeted by mob boss Murad (Rade Šerbedžija) as revenge for Brian killing several of his mobsters, including his son, in the last film. He tracks them down to Turkey where they are having a small family get together, where he kidnaps both Brian and Lenore. Kim must now find her parents and help her father stop Murad.

Co-written by Luc "We only use 10%?" Besson, who also co-wrote the original, and directed by Olivier Megaton, a name that sounds like the lead in an action movie rather than the person filming one, this film could very easily have gone down the road well-trodden and just rehashed the original. Thankfully, however, this film does seem to have something sharp at its core in terms of writing that wasn’t present before and is honestly something I wish was addressed more often: Vigilantism in movies.

The film’s plot feels spun out of a desire to look at the more human side of action movies, specifically a look at killing in action movies. In any garden variety action film, the high body count is only ever that: A body count, with no need to look any further into how they are as people because they’re the bad guys. Think the Stormtroopers in Star Wars and how they wear face-concealing helmets so that we don’t identify them as individuals. Here, however, the entire reason the plot exists is because of repercussions on who Brian killed in the first film, a notion given further strength given how revenge is the sole reason Brian killed them in the first place. Even the ending flat out acknowledges that this could all end up happening again if Brian and Murad will it to. It’s the kind of bonus layer within the writing that action movies need in order to differentiate themselves from the crowd and make them memorable, something definitely needed here considering how surprisingly well the original ingrained itself into the cultural zeitgeist.

However, as good as this may sound on paper, the fact that this film is actively trying for depth works out more to its detriment than anything else. Even with all this written between the lines, this is still an action movie: Neeson kicks mass amounts of ass, which admittedly still looks as good as before, and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake in his mission to save Lenore and Kim. While this alone would make the attempt at a grey ending shaky, *SPOILERS* the film still ends with Brian killing Murad and pretty much negating any point in them even bringing up how people might want revenge for his death as well.

Neeson may still be great to watch in his role during the action scenes, the action largely starts out with him playing Tank to Kim’s Neo and leading her around the city in order to find both him and Lenore. It’s more than a little ridiculous to accept him being able to lead Kim through the alleyways of Turkey, all from memory, not to mention to accept her not getting arrested at any point for letting off grenades numerous times in film to let Brian know where she is. One thing that particularly bugged me about Brian’s "special set of skills" was that, for how prepared he seemed to be for anything happening and how capable he is as an agent, not once at any point in the big car chases he gets into in this film does he simply shoot out the tires of an enemy car. Brian Mills as a character, for all my talk of this film avoiding rehashes, is pretty much still the same insanely overprotective guy we saw the first time around. The man comes across as being that untrustworthy, considering how many times he flat-out lies to both Lenore and Kim, that I don’t know how anyone could trust him as a person, least of all Lenore who became his wife. Then again, they have since divorced so that might explain it.

What makes this particularly odd is that, with the first film, his need to be overprotective was validated and showed him being right… and it still feels like he’s being over-the-top at the beginning of the film when he’s putting out traces on his daughter and doing background checks on her boyfriend. It’s this feeling of uneasiness about the character and how much the audience should root for him, as well as every other problem with the writing that I’ve brought up, that makes its attempts at depth ultimately fall apart.

All in all, while the action is on par with the original and Liam Neeson is still great in the lead role, this film has a similar problem as Lucy, another Luc Besson film, in how it wants to have it both ways. With Lucy, it flip-flopped on whether or not it wanted the audience to take its pseudo-science seriously. With Taken 2, it wants to humanize the antagonists and their want for revenge while at the same time glorifying Brian for killing them as his own revenge. It ends up falling short of the original for trying to punch above its weight, but it’s still an okay action film at the very least.

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