DIRECTED BY OLIVIER MEGATONSTARRING: LIAM NEESON, MAGGIE GRACE, FAMKE JANSSEN, LELAND ORSER, LUKE GRIMES, KEVORK MALIKYAN with D.B. SWEENEY and RADE SERBEDZIJA
To start talking about why Taken 2 did not work, one must understand why its predecessor did. Taken, a Luc Besson franchise – Luc Besson of Cinema du Look, which is French for empty-headed cinema that rides on thrills – revolved around the concept that a man would do anything to save his kidnapped daughter, provided he’s CIA-trained. Lesser mortals shall crumble in the way, but Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) reigns supreme. In Taken 2, there is a scene where his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) asks him what he’s going to do to save her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen). He answers her saying he would do what he does best. In Mills’ case, this could translate to so many things. He’s like the Rocky Balboa of first-person shooting – which is not just that he is damn good at it, but that he is a sport. He is a sport, a father and an honest man. All he needs is a little push.
In Taken, Mills flew across the Atlantic to rescue daughter Maggie from an Albanian prostitution ring. He is a man of utmost focus, unmatchable relentlessness and an actual ability to care. He is the perfect father figure, in short, be it for Kim or Lenore, which is possibly why their marriage failed in the first place – not because he played Dad, but because he played an absent one. And the film, on its part, was the story of a man who was, to put it simply, making up for lost time.
Everyone knows the popular line that Mills says to a laughing gangster on the other side. I will find you. And I will kill you. The line is epic. It could almost be the single most important reason why Taken turned out to be the way it was. It’s not that Mills does what he set himself up to do, but that he had to set himself up so he could do it. As the place where the plot kicks off, this scene has no substitute in the sequel. One scene came pretty close, though, I thought. The unstoppable force that he is, Mills is finally brought to a stop with a gun pointed at Lenore. He has time enough to call his daughter while still in negotiation with the enemy. He needs to ensure her safety. Then he lets go of his. The moment he chooses to drop the gun could be the single most defining moment had sacrifice been the theme. But it is, unfortunately, not. Neither is revenge. It is, in fact, absurdity that is the theme.
The reason why Bryan Mills could single-handedly take on the entire ring in Taken was because he was nobody. In his anonymity, he found strength. But that is not the case in Taken 2. The film starts with him being hunted. It’s not you they want this time, he tells Kim. It’s me. Their revenge has specifications. Mills is to be taken to the place where the dead have been buried, and he must bleed to his own death there. That’s what would calm their spirits. They shall have nothing else. There are so many occasions when Mills could have been compromised at the drop of a hat, but he isn’t. There are so many occasions when Lenore could have been fed to the dogs, both figuratively and literally. But she isn’t. Kim, on her part, is saved by a shot that’s only too opportune; too good to be true, even for Bryan Mills to have fired it.
Think the Dark Knight Rises. Think Ocean’s Twelve. Batman fighting in broad daylight is just absurd. Possibly as absurd as Danny Ocean and gang trying to knock something off the Van Der Woude residence, with the Night Fox at their heels. Mills has half of Europe that can recognize him, this time around. The syndicate seeks revenge. They’re likely to be doubly careful. He is, in fact, taken, tied and tortured. But to no avail. He wriggles his way out with the help of an amateur – his daughter. It is true that the manoeuvres are nothing but presence of mind and some rapid-fire thinking. If you remember, the last time was a tag-team match with Bryan and buddy Sam (Leland Orser) on one side. Mills and Kim are an unlikely pair, that way. They work as father and daughter, but not as brothers in arms. Kim slows him down to an extent that they miss by seconds a head-on collision with a train. I can’t drive, says Kim and rightly so. Can you shoot? Mills asks her. She can’t. She doesn’t have an option but to drive. And we have no option but to believe that she can.
Beyond an unbelievable plotline that can be tolerated only because Neeson is a likeable dad, Taken 2 is absurd for its distinct lack of motive. Mills, in both movies, works well as the man pushed to a corner. The Albanians find, in them, neither the necessity nor the ability to match his, in spite of being a hundred against one. They are led by a man who wants dead the man who murdered his son. Mills has all reason in the world to defend, one would think. The man in question was someone who kidnapped girls and sold them to brothels. Not the kind you would see sense in supporting, right? Taken 2 thrusts its antagonists into such regions of insensibility that there is no escaping the wrath of the audience for what they have done – of pitting themselves against the all-encompassing American hero. You would think of it to be outrageous for the mob boss to even place his son and Mills on the same level. Surely the Albanians are viler beings! At least in comparison with the one-man killing machine that went haywire the last time he landed in Paris. We were over-sold the concept of the wrath of the caring father in the last film. Here we have that of a man who intends to be left alone. When asked why, he says he is tired. This coming from a man who’s probably already beefing it up for the third instalment – where they get kidnapped as a family, to be sold as servants to yet another Islamic nation.
Taken 2 fails for the very same reasons that its predecessor was a success. Its action sequences lack direction, its screenplay lacks motivation and there is no such thing as a reality bite happening. Some of the sequences still pack the punch the first film was loaded with. But then any given scene would work only in as far as it is believable. In that department, Taken 2 is a parallel-park in mid-air on an American flag magic carpet. It's a driving test you'd rather give a pass, if you get what I'm saying.