Sometimes when movies draw to a close, they leave you wanting more, with hopes of a follow-up film some day. Other times, when they end, it's obvious that they've set things up intentionally for a sequel. However, chances are neither of these cases applied after viewing the 2009 action thriller Taken. But that's exactly what someone thought when that film turned out to be a sleeper hit that January. The movie featured Liam Neeson as a retired CIA agent named Bryan Mills who goes on a rampage throughout Paris once his daughter is kidnapped there to be sold in a human trafficking ring. That film was violent and brutal, but the fact it was about a father beating the snot out of a bunch of lowlifes responsible for selling women as sex objects made the story appealing. Now, Mills has returned and this time, he is the one being taken.
The idea behind Taken 2 actually does make sense. If a man goes on a killing spree through an Albanian terrorist group/family, there's liable to be some bitter feelings. As such, the father of the man Neeson strapped to a chair and electrocuted to death in Taken (and the very man who was responsible for kidnapping Mills' daughter) is out for revenge and wants to spill Mills' blood over the gravesite of his family and countrymen. Meanwhile, Bryan has settled back into life at home, has won over his daughter's respect and affections and is slowly winning back his ex-wife. Unfortunately, this new revenge plot puts a serious kink in the family rebuilding exercise and Mills is soon found fighting for his own life as well of that of his family's.
For the most part, the plot works. It's not stupid or forced like a Speed 2 or even The Mummy Returns, but with a sequel like this, you're liable to find similarities. The biggest problem Taken 2 does have, however, is some bizarre plot point choices. For example, the setup of the story goes to great lengths to point out the fact that Bryan's daughter Kim hasn't passed her driver's test yet. He realizes she's capable, but she makes some weird remark that she guesses that she doesn't really want to pass it (ok...?). While the trio are on the run in Istanbul, Bryan and Kim find themselves behind the wheel of a taxi when Bryan insists Kim must drive the car. Now, not only does she suddenly have superpowers that enable her to drive car with stick (while the cars she was learning to drive are automatic), but she does some real impressive, albeit sometimes sloppy, driving. Picture The Bourne Identity street chase mixed with The Bourne Supremacy taxi chase with a little Italian Job thrown in, then extend the chase scene by a minute or two and you have a good idea of what to expect. The biggest difference with all of those movies, however, is that the drivers were experienced in some form. Key word: experienced. Granted, I'm a pretty forgiving movie watcher and this whole thing was dismissable, but it does cause one to wonder how this thought slipped past not only the filmmakers but the cast as well. Didn't, at any point, Neeson or Maggie Grace (who plays Kim) question this little plot faux pas?
But the big tonal change in Taken 2 is that Mills is no longer angrily trying to save his daughter from being sold into prostitution. This time around, the villains are some of the same kinds of guys, but that sort-of justification of seeing these sickos get their comeuppance is lost. Again, these are ultimately the same crew who were the baddies the first time around, but the purpose is different. They're getting revenge and Mills wants to prevent his loved ones--and himself--from ending up dead. Thankfully, while they didn't avoid making Kim some kind of miraculous stunt driver, the filmmakers wisely refrained from making her or her mom sudden action heroes. The butt-kicking is reserved for Neeson and that was a smart move. He's a bit less Jason Bourne now (unless you think of it from a "Why didn't you just leave me alone?!" viewpoint from the Bourne sequels) and more like James Bond to a degree (and for the record, this film was much more enjoyable than this year's Jason Bourne-less The Bourne Legacy). Mills is an unstoppable force who proves to be a whiz with a pistol and he's just plain merciless against these creeps. But his brutality matches that of his cutthroat victims and so it seldom seems unwarranted for him to attack with such force. An analogy is briefly made to him being like a dog with a bone, to which Mills replies that, like a dog with a bone, he's not going to let anyone take from him what is his (i.e., in this case his family). It about sums up this man with a mission, and his cleaning up of some dirty street thugs only completes what he started in the first film.
The content for Taken 2 is as vicious as you might expect it to be. Taken had some of the violence cut down to obtain a PG-13 rating and Taken 2 looks like it could be similarly edited. However, director Olivier Megaton (Colombiana, Transporter 3) takes the reins from Luc Beeson--who directed the first film but co-wrote this one--and does a pretty good job keeping the violence from being graphic. However, that doesn't mean the violence isn't very implicit. Many times, we see Mills put a gun right up to someone and fire or put a couple shots into a thug, who then keels over. In one instance, a man looks through a hole in a wall and we see Mills pop up on the other side, put the gun through the hole and fire, implying that the man was shot in the face. There are lots of quick cuts away from what otherwise would be pretty grotesque violence, but we certainly get the idea. A couple scenes have implied torture, with one scene showing a man raise a pair of scissors and lower them toward a man's leg off-camera. We don't see the impact or the wound, but it's obvious what they are doing to him (In other words, they jammed the sharp end into his leg. Ouch.). In another moment, a man takes a knife to a woman's throat and cuts the skin on the surface in a quick motion enough to draw blood. They then hang her upside down with chains with the intention to let her bleed out. As such, with a bag over her head, we see some blood drip from the bag to the ground. But even in that moment and later on when we see the person again, the wounds are never focused on. While some scenes get a little bloody (like a hand-to-hand fight between Mills and a creep during the climax), some of the killing blows that could otherwise be gory are downplayed. This isn't to make light of any of the violence here, mind you; Taken 2 is about as violent as PG-13 movies can get, but it's just not a visually gruesome action flick at the same time. There is a little bit of language included--about 7 "S" words and about 9 exclamations using "G-d" (one of them being "g*dd*mn"), and there's some brief sensuality when we see Kim and her boyfriend passionately making out on a couch before her dad interrupts them. Obviously, the main concern is with the violent content and it's nothing to take lightly when considering to see this one.
As a story, Taken 2 is a pretty good sequel to a very good film. The impact of the first film's story and motivation behind the protagonist is kind of missing here which robs the movie of its weight, but for those who were emotionally invested in the characters from Taken, Taken 2 serves as a good continuation. But still, one can't help but know that this film only exists because of the box office success of the first one, so, ultimately, it won't have the same impact (And I just read that FOX wants a Taken 3... That may be milking it too much). Honestly, I had been impacted by the sad, sick world of human trafficking shown in 2009's Taken (I was pretty uneducated about it until the movie) and Taken 2 feels more like your standard father-saving-his-family action movie than that film did. Still, diehard fans of the first one--or any movie showcasing Neeson kicking some serious tail--should find Taken 2 a worthwhile endeavor, as long as they don't expect much more than a decent action-packed round two.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/9/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We see Kim and her boyfriend making out on his couch and we see him fumbling to unbutton the top of her blouse (which only has a few buttons). There's no nudity and they're interrupted before it progresses, but it's obvious what their intentions are when we see them; We see Kim in a two-piece bathing suit when she goes swimming at a pool. We then see her in that bathing suit with just a button down shirt over top hanging open for an extended period of time over the course of several scenes; Leanor shows some cleavage in her outfit; A man about to torture a woman drags scissors down the front of her body and uses them to snip open her outer sweater while sensually smelling her; Some verbal references are made to sex trafficking, including threats by the villain to Mills about what they will do to his daughter.
Vulgarity/Language: At least 7 "S" words, 1 "b*stard," 1 "g*dd*mn" and 8 derivatives of "G-d"
Alcohol/Drugs: There is some miscellaneous drinking, nothing significant or focused on.
Blood/Gore: A man is tied up in a chair and shown being punched and interrogated. As such, he has some blood on his face and around his nose and mouth. A man picks up a pair of scissors and presumably jabs them into the victim's leg, but we don't see the impact (just hear him screaming); A miscellaneous man is gunned down and we briefly see a spot of blood on the back of his white shirt; Bryan has some small bloody scrapes on his face; A woman is restrained and we see a knife being held to her throat in a dimly lit room. The man holding the knife then makes a scrape on her neck with the knife in a quick motion (only briefly seen and barely focused on) before they throw a bag over her head and hang her upside down to bleed out. We then see some blood dripping off of the hood around her head and onto the ground as she's hanging there; Bryan fights a man hand-to-hand and the two have some bloody cuts and wounds on their hands and faces afterward; Leanor has some bloody scrapes on her face and neck; We see some blood on the palm of Bryan's hand.
Violence: Excessive violence; We see brief flashbacks of some of Mills' killings from the first movie, including a man in a chair being electrocuted; We see several graves with white body bags in them at a burial; A man is tortured for information and he is struck in the face several times before being stabbed in the leg with scissors; Bryan fights a group of men, some with metal pipes, and beats them up; Leanor is held at gunpoint and Bryan is beaten to the ground before being taken and later tied to a pipe; An innocent man is shot in his hotel room; A woman is cut so she is bleeding and hung upside down to bleed out; A woman throws several grenades, blowing up random objects, just to make some noise; Bryan shoots several thugs, some at point-blank range and beats up others; A man holds a gun on a woman but is gunned down by someone else; Bryan guns down a crooked police officer for dealing with the terrorists; A pretty destructive car chase ensues through the streets of Istanbul. A van gets hit by a train and explodes into flames. A car plows through a US Embassy gate and is riddled with bullets; A tied up woman is taunted and is possibly going to be tortured as a man runs scissors across her clothed body and starts cutting her outer sweater, but he's interrupted; A shootout inside a building leaves lots of men shot to death while others try to shoot Bryan and end up just riddling the walls with bullets instead; There's a pretty rough hand-to-hand fight between Bryan and another man. He pulls a knife on Bryan at one point, but the knife falls to the ground. Bryan eventually overcomes the man and presumably stabs him in the throat (we don't see the point of entry or anything) and/or breaks the man's neck; A man tries to shoot another man but is out of bullets, so the other man slams that man's head against a wall, snapping his neck. We see the dead man's eyes and mouth wide open for a short time; and other action violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.