Taken 2: Neeson Can Save His Wife And Daughter… But Not This Script
At first, I thought Maggie Grace listening to “A Real Hero,” made famous recently by its inclusion in Drive, was a coincidence. Then, when they used more of the Drive soundtrack and did a full-blown replication of its opening moments, I smiled giddily. The allusion was self-aware, and since both films are about skilled men hellbent on the protection of female loved ones, the parallels are clear. However, drawing a parallel to Drive was a dangerous game for Taken 2 to play, as it immediately reminded me of a far superior film that I wished I was watching. Taken 2 is no Drive– it isn’t even Taken. While Neeson is still a compelling lead, and the premise says something intriguing about the nature of action films, there’s little tension, no memorable action set pieces, and absolutely brutal sections of dialogue. When the character’s lines hit hard than Neeson’s throat punches, you have a problem.
Brian Mills (Neeson) is still feeling the effects of his mission to rescue his daughter (Maggie Grace) from the Albanian sex slave market. He’s obsessive, which is revealed to us when he tracks down her boyfriend to interrupt their date (I feel like action heroes often do this). Unfortunately for them, also feeling the effects of his mission are several angry Albanians. We watch a mass funeral in Albania, and as all of the henchmen murdered by Mills the first go around are buried, the father of the man Mills tortured vows revenge. As we watch the Albanians on the move– we can tell the scenes in Albania because there’s always a goat either present in the shot or immediately offscreen whinnying– Mills meets his daughter and ex-wife (Famke Janssen, who’s far nicer to him here than in the first movie) in Istanbul for a vacation. Nothing like going to a country near where all the men who tried to sell your daughter into sex slavery live, am I right? This time, it’s Mills and his wife who are taken, and after he initially just tells his daughter to hide in the closet, he comes to terms with the fact that she now is the only one who can save him, allowing him to rid the world of these pesky Albanians once and for all.
The dialogue in this movie sounds vaguely like it was written by someone who speaks English as a second language. This occurred to me during the first conversation between Mills and his ex-wife, and upon listening through this filter for the rest of the film, it simply couldn’t be denied. Neeson, Janssen, and Grace are all trying their best to make this sound like actual conversation… but they are fighting a losing battle. The dialogue sounds best coming from the villain, the Albanian Mandy Patinkin (God, I wish it had been the actual Mandy Patinkin), who gets to chew the stilted phrases with more vigor. Not that the dialogue matters too much once the action begins: Neeson spends most of his time barking out orders. After an early driving school lesson, it’s clear Maggie Grace will have to drive during a big action scene. The only dialogue during this endless chase is Neeson yelling, “Do it! Go! Faster!”, and Grace yelling, “I can’t do this!” Whatever happened to using encouraging words with your daughter, Brian Mills?
Yet with an action movie, you’d likely forgive the dialogue, the logic problems, the performances, etc., if there’s plenty of high-quality action. I would say there’s plenty of action, but the level of quality is dubious. Olivier Megaton, the director whose name is better than his filmography, recently said in an interview with Cinema Blend, “I’m not a fan of action movies.” It shows. The sense of geography is limited, the shot length is miniscule, and the shots they do choose to use often make Neeson look stiff or overly choreographed. Where are the long shots? Where are the moments that help us realize what odds are to be overcome? Here, we’re smothered with lightning-speed editing and constantly-moving camera shots woven together seemingly at random. Though the first had fast cutting as well, we felt the punches, we knew where the cars were, and we understood what was transpiring. It was hard-hitting enough that afterwards, I thought it was rated R. There’s no mistaking that Taken 2 is rated PG-13. It doesn’t capture nearly the darkness of tone of the original. Since the story implies that the killing action heroes do only exponentially increases their odds of encouraging families to seek revenge, there are some fascinating moments of realization– Mills will never be safe as long as he has to kill to save his family. It’s a never-ending cycle. The film series could be a never-ending cycle for all I know as well. If they got a better script and a strong director, I would happily pay again to see Neeson beat up thugs… but if the quality keeps dipping, the series will die a painful death. My recommendation? Get the people behind Drive.