The characters in Taken 2 have no idea how revenge is supposed to work. In the first film, Liam Neeson kills his way through dozens of shady Eastern Europeans to save his daughter from a sex trafficking ring. In this sequel, Liam Neeson takes revenge on family members of the dead baddies from the first movie who try to take revenge on Liam Neeson for taking revenge on the people who kidnapped his daughter. So…yeah…
The first movie in this franchise took me by surprise when it hit theaters in 2009. Released during the infamous dumping grounds of the winter season, the modestly budgeted movie became a smash hit. The story was straightforward, the action sequences were enjoyable, and Liam Neeson was a badass. Taken is a damn fine genre movie. Part of my enthusiasm for the original, however, is probably tempered by the fact that I got to see the unrated international cut first as opposed to the watered down American version. The international cut amounted to little more than 90 minutes of Liam Neeson being awesome; I have no idea what people actually saw in American cinemas.
With Taken 2, Luc Besson trades the streets of Paris for the slums of Istanbul and a kidnapped daughter for a kidnapped ex-wife. The basic formula is still the same: Liam Neeson menacingly furrows his brow as he blows through wave after wave of smelly, unshaven Eastern Europeans. The formula itself still mostly works, but the movie itself feels like a stripped down, heavily edited version of a much better film. Not unlike watching a network television edit of Die Hard. The problem isn’t with what’s on the screen, it’s with what didn’t make it to the screen.
As I mentioned earlier, this movie follows aging badass Liam Neeson (I don’t think anyone can actually remember the character’s name) as he scours Istanbul to save his wife and daughter from the vengeful father of one of the men he killed in the first movie. Why is Liam Neeson hanging out in Turkey? Hell if I know.
The movie devotes its first thirty minutes to Neeson trying to take his daughter, the only 30 year old high school student in America, to get her driver’s license. Then he’s suddenly in Turkey where his estranged ex-wife and his daughter pay him a surprise visit for no reason at all. You may think I’m joking, but I’m not. There’s absolutely no transition setting up Neeson’s departure for Turkey; in one scene he’s sitting in his backyard drinking beer with his friends and less than sixty seconds later he’s guarding a Saudi oil prince in Istanbul with no explanation offered whatsoever. Thirty seconds after that his daughter and ex-wife materialize out of thin air behind him.
The entire move is like that from major plot points down to the nitty-gritty of the action sequences. In the PG-13 theatrical cut currently in theaters, the camera consistently manages to cut away from the proceedings at the most hilarious, inappropriate moments. In one scene that elicited guffaws from the audience I was with, Neeson apparently kills a baddie by impaling him on something. However, we never actually see the villain being impaled or even what he was supposed to be impaled upon; all we see is Liam Neeson grab the bad guy by the face and push him into a wall…and then the guy’s dead. Apparently in the American cut of the movie, Liam Neeson is just such an immense badass that he can kill a man by placing his hand over the man’s mouth for three seconds.
There’s probably a nice unrated cut of Taken 2 waiting to hit Blu-ray, a cut that contains a logical plot and shows all of the violence that was haphazardly excised from the American theatrical cut, but that’s simply a case of too little too late. The version of Taken 2 currently airing in American cinemas is one of the clearest examples of PG-13 hackwork released in the past few years, and that’s a damn shame because this could have been a fine sequel. Liam Neeson is always great and the basic formula here is perfect for a solid genre flick, but the movie has clearly been rendered incomprehensible in an effort to cater to children.
At the end of the movie, hints are dropped that family members of this movie’s bad guy will try to take revenge on Liam Neeson for taking revenge on this guy who took revenge on Liam Neeson for taking revenge on the guys who kidnapped his daughter. So…yeah. It’s probably time for this franchise to just die, because it now looks like the original Taken was merely a fluke.