Monday, October 22, 2012

Taken 2 review

Taken was released in 2008, and was never expected to become the international hit that it did.  In fact, it was supposed to be released straight to DVD at one point.  Luckily for all of us, it wasn't and we all got to experience Pierre Morel direct Liam Neeson in a great action film.  Luc Beeson is back, as writer and producer of Taken 2.  Liam Neeson returns, this time directed by Olivier Megaton.   Famke Janssen also returns as Neeson's ex-wife; and Maggie Grace (who was taken in the first film), returns to play his daughter.  In this sequel, the father of a man Neeson kills in the first film, seeks revenge for his death. The villain is played by Rade Serbedzija. Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
Fast Paced Storytelling
Every spy franchise has something distinct about it.  For 007, it's his cool, suave demeanor.  For Jason Bourne, it's his rough, grounded style combat. And in the Taken franchise, it's all about fast paced, no time wasted, action.  And I love what they did in the sequel.  The first act is definitely reserved for setup.  The second and third act are non-stop action.  Very little time is dedicated to anything but car chases, shoot outs, and hand to hand combat by our aging star.

Megaton definitely gets the credit here.  He keeps the story going.  Even when the main characters are in just one location, the story is constantly moving forward.  That's as vague as it gets without giving anything away.  But I can tell you that the camera angles, swooping shots, and choice of lighting, show Istanbul in a way we've never seen it before on film.  The past paced storytelling is solidified when we realize most of the movie takes place over the course of just one day.

In the first film, we learn that Neeson's character has "a very particular set of skills; skills [he] acquired over a very long career".  And we get to see more of those skills in the sequel.  Take for example his mapping skills.   I'm not telling you anything here that the trailer didn't already give away: he and his ex-wife are taken and blindfolded.  Neeson then times the turns the van is making in his head, to later retrace the drive.  I thought that was a very clever way to explain how he knows where to go later in the film.  We also get a glance at his weapons and supplies.  That's something we didn't get to see in the first film.

The action is more of the same from the first film.  Neeson plays a little bit detective, a little bit spy, mix in a few shoot outs, and finish it off with some hand to hand fighting.  I'm not complaining about the action, just want to make it clear, it's more of the same.  What is not more of the same is the involvement of Neeson's daughter in the film, Maggie Grace....
Minor Spoiler:
Neeson and Janssen must escape their captors, and they need Grace to help them do so.  Using a spy sized phone, Neeson gives her very simple, step by step instructions to Grace.  In my opinion, this was a clever way to include Grace in the action. Ignoring how absurd it is of course.
End Spoiler

What I didn't like about the film:
No character arcs 
There is absolutely no arc to these characters.  Minus a romantic element to the main characters, there are the same people at the end of the film, that they were at the beginning of the film.  The same goes for the villain, just an empty, lame duck bad guy.  Serbedzija is a great actor too, it's too bad there wasn't better material written for him.  He's reduced to nothing more than a statue in a penthouse awaiting updates from his henchmen.

Same movie, just with a high gloss finish 
Taken 2 suffers from the same thing The Hangover 2 did; it's essentially the same movie as its predecessor.  Action films like The Bourne Supremacy and The Dark Knight pushed the envelope to tell the evolving story of its characters.  Taken 2 and The Hangover 2 just repeated a successful formula, with very little risks taken (no pun intended).  Another thing the movies have in common is, the element of surprise is gone.  The first films in these franchises brought something fresh and new to audiences, that is now gone with the sequels.

The Verdict:
Still a fun movie 
Even though there is little to no character development, and it's beat for beat like the first film, I still enjoyed it.  The setting, fast paced action, and espionage kept me interested.  I really liked how Megaton portrayed the skills the Neeson character has.  It was clever and new to me.  To enjoy the film, you must watch it with suspension of disbelief.  You're going to see a timid, teenage girl, drive like James Bond, and you're asked to just go with it.  And if you should so choose to "just go with it", Taken 2 will be a fun, albeit empty, ride.

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