At no point does Taken 2 work any harder or get any smarter than it needs to be.
Taken 2Director: Olivier Megaton
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Šerbedžij
Length: 98 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: Unrated
UK release date: 2013-02-04
US release date: 2013-01-15
When Taken became an unexpected action hit, a sequel became obligatory. And that's the overriding feeling of much of the resulting Taken 2: obligation. The second installment dutifully follows the most standard of sequel formulas: move the action to a different location (Istanbul, this time) and increase the peril (two damsels in distress instead of one), but ultimately replay the action of the first film with slight variations.
Of course, Taken 2 would like you to believe that it isn't all about the action. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a now-retired CIA operative, fights not for country, but for family: a daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), and an ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen). We spend too much time being reintroduced to this family, watching Mills make up for time he lost spearheading ops for the CIA by doing regular-dad things, like washing the car, teaching the un-licensed Kim to drive, fretting over Kim's new boyfriend, and counseling Lenore on her convenient separation from her second husband. Those looking for the nonstop adrenaline have a long layover in Los Angeles before the action moves to Turkey.
Once Mills, Kim, and Lenore agree to take a family vacation in Istanbul, for better or worse the movie starts to feel more familiar. After all, Mills isn't the only one with a family to protect. Abroad, relatives of the thugs he murdered in Taken -- the people who tried make Kim a victim of human trafficking -- plot their revenge, headed by family patriarch Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), and the cycle of kidnap, torture, murder, and vengeance begins anew.
All of this setup is really piece-moving to allow Mills to, in his words, "Do what I do best" -- meaning charging after the bad guys without any backup, and taking them down. Sometimes there's hand-to-hand combat; sometimes he gets a gun and just starts firing. There are neat little sequences, but no surprises: Everything that follows is as you would expect. It's not that the action is poorly handled, but it's just good enough to get Mills from the hordes of anonymous bad guys to the slightly more important bad guys to the really bad guys. At no point does Taken 2 deviate from this goal, or work any harder or get any smarter than it needs to be.
Take, for instance, the big (obligatory) car chase. It's slightly interesting to put Kim behind the wheel of the car, since it's already been established that she failed her driver's test multiple times. Once Kim states her initial reservations about being up to the task, however, things proceed like any other car chase in any other action movie, with the addition of Mills shouting "Move!" or "Faster!' The scene would've been more clever had it also doubled as another driving lesson, with Mills telling Kim when to shift, clutch, break, or floor it.
The Luc Besson-approved Olivier Megaton's direction is similarly not devoid of style, yet still stops shy of doing anything truly impressive. He ratchets up the color saturation, plays with the speed of the action sequences, and employs a few other visual flourishes, but it's all in service of an aesthetic that is de rigueur for action movies.
Similarly, Megaton never really pushes his material. At times, he flirts with making a point about the importance of family or the futility of revenge, but as soon as a moral or lesson is introduced, it's either dropped or immediately reversed by the next scene.
This will please a certain audience -- namely, fans of Taken who aren't looking for anything more. The unrated Blu-Ray release also seeks to please that audience, and that audience only, in its extra features. If you watch the unrated cut of the movie with the "Black Ops Field Manual" on, for example, a counter on the screen keeps a running tally of Mills' kills. Another feature, "Sam's Tools of the Trade," takes you through Mills' briefcase, giving a rundown of all the weapons available to him and the damage they can inflict. It all celebrates Mills' one-note brand of revenge.
The most interesting special feature is billed as an alternate ending, but, running close to a half hour (or a third of the movie's running time), is more of an alternate cut. A title card from Megaton explains how the original cut of the movie had an entirely different structure in the final act. He explains that he prefers the theatrical version, but it's interesting to pick apart the different implications for Mills' motivations when the sequence of events is shifted. They still don't amount to much, so long as both versions end the same way: with Mills having done what he does best, and the movie getting out of his way.