Taken certified Liam Neeson as the badass he is. The Grey upped the bar. Battleship… did the opposite and showed that even Liam Neeson likes to do movies that require no skill and pay him well. So where does Taken 2 sit in all this? Somewhere in between.
Let it be said that the first Taken was directed by Luc Besson and Luc Besson don’t mess around. The second Taken is written and produced by Besson, but not directed. Sad panda.
The story starts with Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) an ex-CIA badass hanging out with his daughter (from the first movie) and trying to get her to pass her drivers test. Oh how the mighty have fallen. This turns into some emotional pandering and introducing Mills ex-wife into the picture, who is having some issues with her new husband. So Bryan says, “Hey I’m going to work in Istanbul for a few days, once I’m done why don’t you guys come along and we will relax. Nothing could go wrong, right?” Well, it just so happens that an action movie actually acknowledges that all the people killed in Taken 1 had a family. So the pissed off (and well armed) family of mourners sets off to kidnap Bryan and his family so that Liam Neeson can say “We are about to be Taken“, and Peter Griffon can stand up and say, “Oh I love it when they say the title of the movie during the movie!“
The result of this is basically what I break down into a three act movie. The first act sets up the emotional stakes of his daughter and ex-wife (there is definitely still chemistry between them) and then Neeson and the ex-wife (Famke Janssen) get taken. Oh, see what they did there? Neeson got Taken this time. But not before he beats the crap out of half of the kidnappers with a patient fighting style not usually seen in action movies.
The second act is his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) becoming a vulnerable badass and freeing Neeson as they both endure an adrenaline packed sequence. The star of the second act is Maggie Grace who pulls off the action wonderfully and better than Neeson. Usually I’m not a fan of action stars introducing a young, hip character to take the reins, but Maggie Grace went from being a victim in the first film to an empowered girl who demands that her father let her help them without losing the sincerity that makes her character believable.
The third act puts Kim into safety for the rest of the movie as Liam Neeson chases after his wife. The problem is that the third act is flat. Neeson never once seems in any real danger and makes the enemies look pathetic. The main villain cowers in a bath house and falls for the oldest trick in the book. This would be less of a problem if Neeson had cut through them like butter with the same brutality as the first film, but the action felt phoned in at times. For a movie that really only has two stars (Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace) I felt one of them didn’t show up.
I give Maggie Grace an 8.5 out of 10 for taking the material and elevating it. I give Liam Neeson a 5 out of 10 for kinda phoning it in. There are no grand speeches and none of the fights will be memorable for more than a day, but the middle act with Maggie Grace might be worth ticket price. Just don’t expect this movie to be as good as Taken 1, okay?