I’m not sure who coined the phrase “from the sublime to the ridiculous,” but it might apply to the decline in quality, so glaringly obvious, from the first Liam Neeson vehicle Taken, to the follow up Taken 2 which hits theaters on October 5.
Taken burst onto the scene in 2009. With a modest budget of $25 million it grossed nearly $150 million, surprising executives and audiences alike. The story wasn’t that original, a man tracking down those who’ve done harm to himself or a loved one (Hang ‘Em High, Man on Fire, Conan the Barbarian), and it actually took a solid twenty minutes –with some tidy conveniences—for the story to ramp up, but when it got going, Taken worked.
Directed by: Olivier Megaton
Written by: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace
It’s hard to pinpoint why. Maybe it’s the way Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, didn’t appear that menacing—but when activated could dispatch any adversary. Maybe it was the character’s singularity of purpose. Maybe it was the way he delivered the now legendary lines about how he promises to hunt down the bad guys, “I will find you, and I will kill you.” Maybe it was just the body count. Whatever the formula, Taken did so well the inevitable was bound to happen: a sequel.
Die Hard 2 may not have been as good as the original, but it was a decent follow up in the action genre. Taken 2 strays so far from the magic of the first movie it’s hard to see a third film happening. In the sequel, Bryan Mills is at it again, breaking necks and shooting down villains in pursuit of his kidnapped ex-wife (in the first it was his daughter who was ‘taken’).
The first Taken had a few of those hard to believe moments most viewers could get past, but in the second installment there are so many conveniences in the plot I think the DVD of this film will have to be shelved next to Hostess Cupcakes and Red Bull at your local 7-Eleven when it is released on disc.
Movies like Boondock Saints, for instance, can be ridiculous, but those films know they are mugging for the camera. Taken 2 takes itself seriously, which makes Bryan Mills’ abilities that much more preposterous. At this point, the US Military should retire all special forces, and just send this guy in to any hot spot to kill or subdue enemies. Between the two films, I think he’s killed close to fifty men. That’s fifty bodies in about three hours of screen time.
The production value does match the first film (the locale of Istanbul–and its exotic quality—is breathtaking) and the performances are also on par, but the script is terrible. Dialogue is clunky, the relationships rushed and without chemistry, and the plot is an afterthought—just something to grease the wheel and get Neeson in motion. The audience with which I attended the movie was noticeably laughing throughout, as more and more absurd things started to happen. In truth, close to the end, I was rooting for the bad guys. I wanted to see them take a piece out of Neeson’s character or a twist to occur so I could at least be in doubt as to the eventual outcome. Nothing kills a story more than when the viewer is ahead of the writer.
As Yogurt said in Spaceballs, “God willing we’ll all be back for Spaceballs 2: the search for more money.” This is the coda that was slapped on Taken, and the prophecy came true. Let’s hope Bryan Mills has no more relatives to be ‘taken,’ so the ride will end after two films.