Dir. Olivier Megaton, France, 91 mins, rated 12A
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija
The first Taken was a relatively low-budget action gem that helped establish Liam Neeson’s credibility as an action movie star. In it, Neeson plays Bryan Mills, ex-CIA agent turned overly-protective father, a man with a cool leather jacket and a very particular set of skills – specifically, looking for, finding, and subsequently killing bad guys. When his daughter Kim (Grace) is kidnapped by human traffickers during a trip to Europe, Mills heads over to Paris to put those particular skills to good use.
Taken 2 picks up soon after the events of the first film, with the bodies of the dead traffickers arriving back in their home village in Albania. It turns out that even brutal sex slavers have families who care about them, and in a touching funeral scene, the surviving relatives, led by Murad Hoxha (Serbedzija), swear vengeance. You see, Murad is not just the head of the Albanian mafia, he’s also the father of Marko, that guy who Mills, in the previous film, left wired to the Parisian mains. And when it comes to looking for and then finding the man who knifed, shot and electrocuted their loved ones, the Albanians demonstrate some pretty good skills of their own. Now, having tracked Mills and his family to their holiday hotel, the stage is set for the Albanians to make the same ultimately fatal mistakes all over again.
This time around, Luc Besson (again writing and producing) and director Olivier Megaton have allowed the Paris tourist board to breathe a sign of relief and turned their attention east to Istanbul. And while Turkey’s largest city certainly makes for a more exotic setting, viewers familiar with Istanbul might be surprised that this largely secular modern city is populated largely by burqa-clad locals who, when they’re not parking fruit carts in the path of Mills’ speeding car, stand and stare with open hostility at his daughter (and that’s before she starts throwing grenades around).
Like the first film, Taken 2 plays as an incredibly lean chase movie with some great Neeson beatdowns interspersed with a couple of clever ‘how-to’ set-pieces, including one ingenious scene where the kidnapped yet resourceful Mills guides his daughter to his unknown location with nothing more than a city map, a marker pen, a shoelace and those aforementioned hand grenades. There’s also a frantic car chase given an extra frisson by the fact that Kim is still learning to drive (though funnily enough this doesn’t stop her executing some pretty nifty handbrake turns when the need arises). And while both films share a similar structure – introduction, kidnap, chase, epilogue – the mechanics are slightly different second time around. In the first film, Mills interrogated and tortured his way up to the top of the trafficking food chain, and we only discovered the next batch of villains as Neeson did. Here we already know all the villains, because we’re introduced to them in the opening scene, and instead of questioning each henchman, Mills always knows who to kill next because he sees them at the end of a dingy alleyway, or dragging his ex-wife (Janssen) into a battered van. But what the film loses in exposition, it makes up for in pacing, making for one pretty much uninterrupted, breathless chase of film.
Much has been made about cuts made to Taken 2 by 20th Century Fox in order to secure the more family– and box office-friendly 12A rating (cuts the distributors themselves, not the censor, requested). Interestingly, neither installment portrays much actual bloodshed, but with a plot mired in the European sex trafficking industry, the first Taken was never going to be a realistic candidate for a 12A, no matter how many gunshots or headbutts were trimmed. This time around, the 12A rating was more easily in reach and apparently achieved with cuts to three scenes (according to the BBFC website). And while we should only judge a film by what is on the screen, rather than what isn’t, going from a 15 to a 12A does have wider implications for the overall tone of a movie, rather than say a drop from 18 to 15. Although Taken 2 is certainly still a violent film, it does lack the cold brutality (and some might say outright sadism) of the first film (which deserved its 15-rating). While this is not a reason in itself to judge a film harshly, there have been grumbles that in toning down the violence, some of the fight scenes have been rendered less than coherent and this is indeed the case in a few instances. The more cynical among us might also question the recent trend of self-censored theatrical releases that come with the promise of an ‘uncut’ higher-rated version to follow on DVD. While this allows for a greater potential audience at the cinema, it also carries the risk of older fans deciding against paying premium cinema prices for an ‘abridged’ version of the film and choosing to wait for the DVD release instead.
On balance, if you enjoyed Taken, then chances are you’ll enjoy Taken 2; it’s a very similar animal, albeit one that sadly has had some of its teeth pulled.