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Director: Oliver Megaton
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija, Leland Orser, Luke Grimes
Plot: On a holiday in Istanbul with his ex-wife and daughter, Bryan Mills (Neeson) is kidnapped by a blood-thirsty gang out of revenge.

Taken 2 has fallen into the category of stupid action movie, not helped by the fact that on the surface it looks like a pointless sequel, as well as another Liam Neeson continuing his by-the-numbers action hero series. However, Oliver Megaton shakes the formula up a bit. He takes all of the little things that Morel and Besson’s original had going for it, but fine-tunes it. While the gritty realism of the sex trade business is missing (would it have worked again? Probably not), the action is taken up a level, the tension is still there and Megaton has a handful of tricks up his sleeve that made me conclude that the sequel has surpassed the original.

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What really surprised me was how well-written Bryan Mills was. People keep on saying that Taken’s biggest flaw is the one-dimensional characters, but if you dig a little deeper then there is a lot of clever stuff going on in between the lines that deserve praise. Liam Neeson will never find a weighty challenge in taking on Bryan Mills, his performance coming across as stale, probably because he still more wrapped up in nailing down the American accent, rather than the performance. Some lines fall flat, probably due to poor direction, as we have seen Liam Neeson totally amaze audiences in his earlier movies. However, as a character, Bryan Mills interested me. A decade ago, the action hero was the man we all wanted to be. Witty like John McClane, unstoppable like Rambo and romantic like James Bond. However, as the movie slowly opens, it becomes very clear that life must really suck for Bryan Mills. When the action and saving people is underway, he is that man with a special set of skills, but in any other situation, he is clueless. He is an awful family man and a lousy father, his one redeeming quality his devotion and even then, Megaton cleverly twists this into a downside to Mills’ personality. He wants to be there for his family, but he doesn’t know how to go about it. He buys his ex-wife and daughter tickets to Istanbul for a holiday, but when they are together, he comes across more a tour guide than a loved one. He treats Kim’s new boyfriend, as though he is just another bad guy from the first film. This is all intentional, because Famke Janssen brings it up during the story. A part of you almost wants his family life to be torn apart by villains, because that is the only time Bryan Mills can seem to get something right.

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And of course, it does. And we have actual villains this time, not nameless sex traders. While the plot is a little ‘thrown-together’ (the bad guys are upset their sons, who rape women for a living, were killed), it serves as a quick fix for some action. We are still a long way from where I want the franchise’s antagonists to be, Serbedzija getting very little to do, other than whisper menacingly. However, when we have a face that needs to be killed at the end of the tunnel, it makes the story much easier to stick with. I also enjoyed that the action doesn’t jump all over the place, like it did with Taken. In one sense, we could argue that it is all one set-piece, with the fights working around one kidnapping and sticking to the same few locations. Bryan Mills is also given a lot more moments when he can just be cool. The fighting is impressive, perhaps a little over-edited, but Liam Neeson earns his action hero stripes with flying colours. He also flexes his smarts more too, thinking on his feet and getting out of impossible odds. It is fun, trying to figure out what the character is planning, before the movie has to tell us. And then there is Maggie Grace. Kim’s character steps up a notch. In the first one, she was a Macguffin, the girl that needed to be rescued, but in Taken 2, she is an active player in the game. The twist with this one is that it is Bryan Mills who is taken, and he needs to use a hidden phone to walk his daughter through, rescuing him. It ups the tension, because when bad guys are patrolling the area, we know Bryan Mills can take them out, but Kim is way out of her league. Maggie Grace might still have to spend a lot of the movie’s running time in her swimsuit, but she is now a strong female character that matches Liam Neeson blow for blow.

Final Verdict: Smarter, better action… Taken 2 might not be anyone’s idea of a masterpiece, but the critics are lying. It is actually quite good.

Three Stars

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