Monday, October 15, 2012

Taken 2 - Theatrical Review

Release Date: October 5, 2012

After 4 years of waiting and dealing with all the wannabe's and knock offs, we have our sequel to one of the biggest surprise hits in recent memory. Too bad it wasn't worth the wait.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 11:25 pm October 5, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 1 hr 30 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Loves: The first Taken, Badass Liam Neeson
Likes: Revenge flicks, bad guys being tortured and laid to waste
Neutral: Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace   
Hates: Sequels that ruin to the good of their predecessors 
Did you know?: The first film was dropped in the September dumping grounds where it was expected to die a quick death.

After going on a murderous rampage all throughout Europe in search of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and rescuing her from the clutches of an elaborate white slavery ring in Europe, ex-CIA agent and father Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has finally settled down. An undisclosed number of years(?) later, Bryan is still taking care of his daughter as well as his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who has had a recent falling out with her new husband. In order to cheer them up Bryan invites both Lenore and Kim to join him in Istanbul for a vacation away from their problems. Little does Bryan know that the families of all those people he recklessly killed are out seeking revenge and plan on taking him this time.

The 2008 surprise hit "Taken" started a movement upon its release. That movement involved hailing Liam Neeson as the newest badass action star on the block. Since its release, movie studios and filmmakers alike have tried to recapture the essence of what made that film (and more specifically Liam Neeson) click with audiences that had them clamoring for more. Soon we were bombarded with movie after movie that were from "The director of Taken", "The producers of Taken" and some even stole the actual poster art. Alas, not even having Liam Neeson in the actual films were enough to dupe audiences into these second rate knock offs (well, "The Grey" actually ended up being pretty good).

Taking the family on vacation to Istanbul was one of the worse ideas in history.

There was only one thing that could satiate these 'Takers' (patent pending) and that was an honest to goodness follow up to "Taken" featuring Neeson kicking ass while in search of a loved one again. Nobody ever wanted anything more than to see him kill, maim, torture and fight his way through yet another swarm of scumbag bad guys who deserved every bolt of electricity, every bullet to the head and every neck snap he gave them. In short, all anybody ever wanted was to watch him kick ass again which seems like the simplest request of all time.

Yet, somehow, someone, somewhere decided to choose this moment, the moment all the fans have been waiting for to try and mix up the formula. While taking a series in a new direction is admirable (and rare in this day and age), it isn't what fans wanted from a sequel to that first film. This isn't the time to be ambitious, this is a time to do what most everyone expects from Hollywood and just produce a cookie cutter sequel. Just give us more of what we loved about that first film, nothing more nothing less (although it would be appreciated if it was more than just a retread while still keeping everything we loved about it intact). Worse yet is that even if you do like this new direction, the film also fails in that regard making this one of the most profoundly disappointing films of the year.

This time it is personal.

There were so many bad and baffling decisions made that it's difficult to even know where to start. Probably the one thing that will leave most fans out in the cold is how little we actually get to see Neeson strut his stuff. After about nearly thirty minutes of set up (pacing is not this films strong suit), we see him get into a couple quick tussles before he is finally forced to give in due to a completely asinine decision made by his wife (after what he did in that first film you would think she would listen to him a little bit better). Then it isn't until another twenty or so minutes pass where we see him back in action but only periodically since we now have his daughter Kim joining in on the action.

Bringing in another character to help our hero isn't necessarily a bad thing (see the "Die Hard" franchise) and in a role reversal sort of way it makes sense that the person who helps Neeson just so happens to be the person he rescued the first time around. Like everything else in the film though the problem lies in the execution. The daughter takes up an enormous amount of screen time which isn't necessarily bad thing other than the fact that we end up seeing much less of Neeson in action as a result. Despite a relatively successful and inventive sequence where Neeson invents a new sort of GPS (Grenade Positioning System?) as he directs Kim to his location, just about every other moment she takes us away from him can only be summed up as a severe letdown.

You don't get to see this nearly as much as you would like.

The problems don't stop there unfortunately. As already hinted towards, the filmmakers made the bold decision to actually give us less Neeson this time around. The daughter wasn't the only story contrivance keeping him out of the action, the actual script itself is to blame for most of it. That first film was a white knuckle journey through a seedy underworld filled with the filth of mankind where Bryan Mills had the dauntless task of searching for one person in a city filled with millions with almost nothing to go on. Thus every time he found a new clue or new lead it was exciting and almost always punctuated by some form of excessive violence or torture, or both. To put it bluntly, he was downright sadistic in that original film.

In the sequel he isn't given those same opportunities to shine. The script has him giving directions or proving his superior intellect by either having someone throw grenades to find him or having them drive the car while he yells out pointless remarks such as, "Drive faster!" or "Floor it!" over and over again. There is so little of that vindictive Liam Neeson we all fell in love with, this guy is kind of tired and withered. There comes a point where he even tries to stop the killing and make a truce with the main bad guy! To emphasize how ridiculous this is, this is the guy who kidnapped him with an intent to torture him to death, kill his wife right in front of him and have his daughter raped countless times before selling her to the LOWEST bidder. The Liam Neeson from that first film wouldn't have even given this guy a chance to blink before shoving his gun so far up his a** that he would s**t bullets for weeks.

The car chase offers up decent thrills but nothing you haven't seen before in better films.

You may think that it is unfair to be so down on a film for trying something different but there are certain franchises that only work because they continue to provide us with what we loved about them in the first place? The reason we still like the "Die Hard" series (as ridiculous as it has become) is to see John McClane decimate bad guys who still like to mess with his family. The reason we like the "Dirty Harry" movies is to see Harry Callahan clean up the streets with extreme prejudice. The reason we enjoy the "Lethal Weapon" series is to see Martin Riggs exact revenge on anyone who has tried to harm his friends or family. The reason we love the "Rambo" movies is because he not only fights for our country but has no qualms about gutting a fool with his ten inch long knife for just thinking about doing the wrong thing.

These action movie icons and their sequels succeed simply because they continue to give us what we want from them, what they gave us in the first place. "Taken 2" tried to take the higher road and ended up a tragic wreck of a film that wanted to change the game but instead just diluted what made it special in the first place. The many other failures of the film pale in comparison to the one fatal flaw of taking the one thing everyone loved about that first film and destroying it. But still, it is hard not to nitpick at this point so without further hesitation, here we go.

Liam Neeson still retains his status as a bad ass though.

First up is why someone would take their family abroad to a country like Istanbul after what happened in the first film? A trip to Disneyland sounds a lot safer. Why would kidnappers with orders NOT to kill the daughter run around a hotel with weapons out shooting every innocent bystander they come across? How is it that Kim is so handy with grenades? Why does the US Embassy have only one shack, some sandbags and a handful of soldiers easily breached by a broken down taxi cab? Why do the bad guys keep retreating to locations where they can easily be found at? Why did Lenore backtrack just to be caught? Why didn't she just stay put when she came across that locked gate? Each of these questions can easily be dismissed on their own but when added up and combined with a fatally flawed script and poor execution, it becomes nearly unforgivable.

Does all this mean that no one will enjoy or have fun with "Taken 2"? Not necessarily. There is still some enjoyment to be had watching Liam Neeson break necks and shoot countless thugs even if it is all a bit tame compared to the first film. The idea of having him be hunted down by the families of the people he mercilessly killed and maimed is slightly ingenious when it comes to plausible scenarios to force him back into the fray again. Likewise, Liam Neeson himself still has this uncanny ability to elevate any project he is a part of and make it work. While not quite as successful as he has been in the past, he still makes even the most dreadful moments bearable.

Somehow the imitators were more successful than the real thing this time around. Films such as "Unknown" and "The Grey" gave us a Liam Neeson more akin to the original "Taken" than its sequel and that is just kind of sad. "Taken 2" isn't the worst movie ever made and isn't even the worst film of the year, but it is without a doubt one of the most disappointing films to come out this year. There was no reason why this shouldn't have been a slam dunk but apparently even a sure thing can get derailed if it isn't given the care it deserves. Wait for home video if you are curious (judging from the opening weekend gross though that doesn't seem likely), otherwise just avoid this one and go out to support a film that deserves your support and your hard earned cash like "Looper". If they plan on making a "Taken 3" then they had better rethink their strategy real carefully or risk bankrupting the entire franchise and Liam Neeson's ability to draw in crowds.





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