Saturday, 13 October 2012

Taken 2 - 2012

In 2008, when Taken came out, I went to watch it with no expectations. And like many other viewers, I was blown away by the slick action, limited dialogue and crisp execution of the script. Above all, it was seeing Liam Neeson pull off an action role with finesse, and lending class to what was essentially a Steven Seagal film, that I found so impressive. I could never have imagined soft-spoken and graceful Neeson to be so deft with weapons and hand-to-hand combat. Within minutes, he shifted from genial to menacing - and from the first time he threatened to find and kill his daughter's kidnappers, he convinced me that he could and would do just that.

So, when trailers for Taken 2 came out, I was instantly excited. But you see, I forgot that lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Taken 2 is the story of Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative, who in the previous film managed to track and kill members of an Albanian human-trafficking-gang, who had kidnapped his daughter during a holiday in Paris. Some time has passed since then and life is slowly returning to normal for Bryan, his daughter Kim, and his ex-wife Lenore. Brian gives driving lessons to Kim, like a father would, but watches over her personal life, like only a secret service agent can. In the meantime, the leader of the afore-mentioned Albanian gang is seeking revenge for his son, who Bryan had killed. Things come to a head when the estranged family decide to holiday together in Istanbul and the Albanian gang strikes again - this time to 'take' them all. How Bryan saves not only his life, but his family's, is what the film is about.

Yes, the plot is razor-thin, but most action films have even thinner story-lines. The lack of a meaty premise is the least of my problems with this film. I have too many other issues. So, where should I start?

The dialogue is awful and the ensuing scenes, awkward. Family moments look forced and uncomfortable, because the things they are saying to each other are unnatural and clunky. The first 30 minutes of the film just seem a bit pointless and scenes are tacked on to each other without flow. By the time the real action begins, all the characters have managed to irritate the audience with their listless interactions, which really doesn't help to build any empathy for when they finally get taken.

Then there's the flawed action routines. Where Taken had succeeded in establishing Liam Neeson as an ageing, but quick-witted and limber trained agent, Taken 2 really struggles in delivering a single well-choreographed fight sequence. The camera work is all over the place and is camouflaging the main lead's limited participation in the action scenes. The special effects are jaded and unconvincing. To paraphrase a friend, even the blasts were over-acting.

The thriller elements are just as flawed. For example, the 'clever' little methods, with which Bryan Mills gets his daughter to find the location where he is being held, are actually fairly unscientific. In fact, his own system of noting where he is being driven to, though inspired by Sherlock Holmes, is quite ridiculous (he categorises a call to prayer as 'man singing', which for a long-time international CIA operative smacks of pure ignorance and ineptitude; and seriously, in a city of almost 3,000 mosques, is a call to prayer the best 'milestone' to navigate with?). The pièce de résistance of this badly-constructed action film, is a terrible car chase scene, that has been teleported from the 80s - possibly from a Bollywood film of the time - where there is a constant exchange between father (who is passenger-seat-driving) and daughter (who has not even managed to pass her driving test on an automatic car in the US, but in Turkey is a fantastic getaway car driver on a car with a stick-shift). Bryan keeps shouting 'Move', 'Go Faster' and 'You Can' every 5 seconds; Kim keeps responding with 'Dad' and 'I can't'. The script for this scene should be framed - 3 sheets of paper, with these phrases and nothing else.

I wish I could say that Liam Neeson's acting saved the day, but it really didn't. He is so detached from his character that he might as well have been going through an out-of-body experience. Famke Janssen, as Lenore, hardly has anything to do. Somewhere early on, she gets hung upside down once, and so spends the rest of the film in a strange haze - it really makes no sense why she's 'playing dead' like she's been tortured for days! Maggie Grace, as Kim, was quite endearing in the first film, but here she is just annoying. Even the villain is the most useless bad guy, ever - and his gang of amateurish cronies are too ill-equipped to be scary gangsters! It's not just their acting that sucks - it's everything about their characters and screen presence that needs an overhaul.

Supposedly the location, Istanbul, is a character in the film. The director has made sure with every second shot to establish and re-establish that we are indeed in Istanbul. Here is a shot of the Blue Mosque. Here is another shot of the Blue Mosque. Now here is the Blue Mosque with the Turkish flag in the forefront. Here is the Bosphorus - how do we know that? - well, there's a Turkish flag on the boat and of course, a silhouette of the Blue Mosque.

Taken 2  is not a mediocre film; it is simply a bad film. Pierre Morel, the director of the previous film, is no genius. But Olivier Megaton has done such an abominable job of directing the sequel, he should be banished from film-making for ever.

If it wasn't for the fact that I could not stop laughing hysterically at the terrible dialogue, acting, scripting, direction, special effects and soundtrack, I would have been cursing myself for falling victim to this horror of a film.


  1. Good review Somaya. It’s basically the first Taken movie, but this time, with just more of everything else. That’s not terrible, but it’s not all that smart or original either.

    1. Oh but no no no, Dan. The first Taken movie at least had great action. This one was just so pathetic. I would have walked out if I was watching it alone, but my friend kept me laughing at it. I'm just about to go and read your review now... :)