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In an interview for Taken 2, Liam Neeson said he didn't want to make a "sloppy sequel." I guess that didn't quite work out, Liam. Pierre Morel's original Taken is an unexpectedly great thriller with solid characters and an interesting story to support its slick action. Neeson is perfect as ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills. Equal parts lethal badass and earnest protector to teenage daughter Kim, Mills tore Paris apart to save Kim from sex traffickers. The family of said kidnapers vows revenge in Taken 2, which puts Kim, Mills and wife Lenore in danger. Taken 2 manages to repeat much of the first film without retaining its good qualities. Director Olivier Megaton proves a poor substitute for Morel, and the film is sunk by sloppy editing, an uninspired story, and a rushed, stop-start narrative.
The conflict in Taken 2 is relatively simple. The head of the Albanian mafia and father of Kim's now-deceased kidnapers, Murad Krasniqi (Rade Šerbedžija), vows to avenge his sons. Kim (Maggie Grace) and Lenore (Famke Janssen), who is prepping to divorce again, join Mills in Istanbul, Turkey, where they are stalked by a new group of Eastern European bad guys. Kim sends her estranged parents on a date, where they are attacked and taken to an underground prison. Mills manages to warn Kim before the men come for her, and she becomes his eyes on the ground, simultaneously working to free her parents while fleeing from the approaching antagonists. Sounds like a pretty good idea for a sequel, right? Unfortunately, the execution is lousy.
The first film negated its January release date and proved far superior to the studio junk normally dumped after the holidays. Taken is successful because it sets up an interesting conflict for its likeable hero and victim, and stirs in exciting car chases, unexpected twists and intriguing procedure. Taken 2 does none of that. Despite Neeson's comments about the sequel - and Neeson is certainly the best thing about Taken 2 - it feels like the filmmakers threw together a slipshod sequel to cash in on the original's success. No shit, Will... Early scenes in America show promise. Mills retrieves Kim from her boyfriend's house so she can take her driver's license test (How old is Kim now?). His devotion is admirable and humiliating. Kim and Lenore only end up in Istanbul because Lenore's soon-to-be-ex husband cancels a family trip to China, and Mills has been spending more time stateside with his family. Once the action moves abroad, the quality of Taken 2 takes a nosedive.
I hate to point fingers, but much of the blame here lies with Megaton. Aside from his badass name, Megaton is not a great action director. Megaton captures some nice establishing shots, but his frenetic editing and poor mastery of pace and timing scuttles the film. Taken 2 suffers from many of the problems I had with Megaton's prior film, Colombiana: Characters are one-dimensional, and the action lacks an anchor to ground it in reality. The stakes should feel real; the antagonists are skilled and lack compassion, and Mills stands to lose the two people he loves the most. Since Megaton insists on barging ahead at full force - mood and suspense be damned - the film feels like a soulless string of vaguely related action set pieces.
Remember those character development scenes that made Taken great? Mills' plea for help from a former Paris field agent and a BBQ with his buddies are examples. Those are gone in this film. The bad guys are faceless thugs, Lenore is "sad" and "worried," and Kim is mostly ungrateful and annoying. I did like Kim being forced to buck up and return her father's favor, but her courage is heavily facilitated by Mills. Everything's a little too easy this go-round, too. There's entertainment in watching Mills do what he does best, but the hurdles are relatively small and setbacks limited.
With a running time of just over 90 minutes, Taken 2 feels like it's over too quickly. That's not necessarily a complaint, and I won't deny that the film is moderately entertaining. The editing is another story, particularly in the PG-13 theatrical cut. I realize that Megaton and editors Camille Delamarre and Vincent Tabaillon were required to hit the film's less restrictive rating, but the theatrical cut features some of the worst trimming I've ever seen. Continuity editing is Filmmaking 101, and the filmmakers unintentionally violate this technique again and again to satisfy the MPAA. There are times when it's unclear exactly how a bad guy goes from shooting a weapon to lying dead on the floor. I saw the film in theaters and a friend leaned over and whispered after a climactic scene, "What the hell just happened to that guy?" I didn't know, because the truth was lost somewhere between the camera and screen. This makes Taken 2 feel sloppy, which is a pretty good one-word summary for this weak sequel.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is expectedly excellent for such a recent film. Megaton needs work as a director, but he captures some beautiful shots of Los Angeles and Istanbul, which the transfer supports with gorgeous detail and texture. Close-ups reveal the sweat and stubble on Mills' weary face, and wide shots are wonderfully deep and crisp. The film is intentionally gritty, with some blown out highlights, but skin tones are accurate and colors well saturated. Black levels are usually good, with only minor crush in some of the darkest scenes. Absent are any traces of edge enhancement or compression artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack mostly rumbles. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and the score weighty. Action and ambient effects surround the viewer and rev up the subwoofer, but Taken 2's lossless mix doesn't make as much use of the surround field as other recent action pictures. Effects like gunfire and explosions do reverberate in the rear speakers, but most of the punch comes up front. Nevertheless, this is a strong track. Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available for both cuts, and the theatrical cut also features a 5.1 English descriptive track and a Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish and Mandarin.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Taken 2 gets Fox's typical "combo pack" treatment. The set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and an insert with codes to redeem iTunes-compatible and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are housed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a slick slipcover. The Blu-ray features two versions of the film: an extended unrated cut (1:38:18) and the theatrical cut (1:32:07). My 2.5-star rating reflects the unrated cut, as it cures some of the editing imperfections of the theatrical cut, which I would give a 2-star rating. The extra gore and violence don't greatly improve the film, but they do give it more weight and allow the action to flow better. Extras on the Blu-ray include:
- Black Ops Field Manual - Available only on the unrated version, this guide pops up on screen to provide the viewer with maps, background information on the film and characters, and a running tally of distance traveled and people injured and killed.
- Deleted Scenes (6:56/HD) - These largely superfluous deleted scenes feature extra screen time for the villains.
- Alternate Ending (25:00/HD) - This is definitely the most interesting extra on the disc. A written message from Megaton before the scenes reveals that the ending was rather drastically altered when questions arose about Mills' motivation. In this alternate ending, Lenore is actually in the car with Mills and Kim during the climactic car chase. With Kim and Lenore safe, Mills' subsequent actions feel more like revenge than a necessity. I liked this alternate ending, and it's nice to have it on the disc.
- Sam's Tools of the Trade (3:32/HD) - Viewers can select items from Mills' weapons case to hear information about them, or choose to hear all the tidbits in one reel.
- FX Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Liam Neeson (5:01/HD) - A brief, promotional piece in which Neeson talks about his character and the two Taken films.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:24/HD).
- Live Extras - I thought BD Live was all but dead, but Fox resurrects the service to host a duplicate theatrical trailer (2:33/HD and SD) and an Exclusive Making-Of (7:42/HD and SD), which focuses on the film's car chases.
Olivier Megaton's Taken 2 is a disappointing follow-up to the enjoyable Taken. Liam Neeson is still great as ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills, who is again called upon to rescue his teenage daughter, but the film is little more than a weak rehash of the original. The action is chaotic and soulless, and Megaton's editing is atrocious. Taken 2 is a sporadically entertaining cash-in. Neeson deserves better. Rent It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.