Ever since the surprise success of 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson has become the poster boy for throat-punching, wolf-stabbing, neck-snapping action. It’s not like the towering Irish actor hadn’t seen his share of action over the course of his very successful career, but, with Taken, he and director, Pierre Morel, helped create a very different kind of hero in Bryan Mills. With his sad, weary eyes, deceptively lumbering appearance, and quiet/cool demeanor, Neeson’s Mills looked like anything but the walking death dealer he turned out to be, and audiences ate it up. Raking in nearly a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide, it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise that Bryan Mills would be back for an encore.
Taken 2 opens in a rural Albanian village where the bodies of several of Bryan Mills’ victims from his recent visit to Paris are being put to rest. Amongst the mourners is Murad (Rade Šerbedžija), father of Marco, whom Mills memorably tortured and electrocuted in the first film. Despite the fact that his son was a white slaver who kidnapped and sold women, Murad wants justice for his son and his fallen comrades, and immediately mobilizes his men to seek out Bryan Mills.
Back in Los Angeles, Bryan is playing the dutiful dad to his teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace who, despite being 30, actually does sort of pull the whole teenage girl thing off pretty damned good), while also doting on his recently separated ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen). Bryan stops by for Kim’s weekly driving lesson (Kim has no license, which will be really important later), when he learns that Lenore’s estranged husband has cancelled a family trip that was planned as a last-ditch effort to salvage their relationship, Bryan invites her and Kim to stay with him in Istanbul, where he’ll be running a security detail for a few days.
We next see Bryan in Turkey, where he’s escorting his most recent charge out of a fancy hotel, apparently finished with his job, and calls Lenore to see if she and Kim will be joining him. But, much to his surprise, his two favorite gals are already there, waiting for him in the lobby. While Bryan gets Kim and Lenore comfortable in their plush Istanbul digs, Murad’s army of track-suited thugs are closing in, having tracked him down with a little help from one of Bryan’s old friends in Paris (the top-cop whose wife Bryan winged to prove a point).
Bryan senses trouble, but it’s too late. He and Lenore are accosted by Murad’s men, and, just before he and his ex-wife are “taken”, he manages to get a call in to Kim alerting her to the fact. Bryan, being Bryan, isn’t in custody for long, however, and, with Kim’s help, he throat-punches his way through Turkey to save Lenore.
Taken 2 was almost universally panned by critics upon its release, but, despite this, the film went on to nearly double the worldwide gross of the original, and looks poised to be one of 2013’s biggest home video releases. Why? I’ll tell you why! It’s because films like Taken 2 are critic proof. No one gives a hoot about the lack of deep characterization or massive lapses of logic in a film like this. Fans just want to see Liam Neeson punch people in the neck, engage in bouts of crazy “slap-fu”, and empty entire clips of ammunition into greasy looking Albanian bad guys. In that regard, Taken 2 is a complete and total success. Sure, the action isn’t handled with the same amount of finesse that Pierre Morel applied to the first film, but Olivier Megaton’s hyperactive aesthete still delivers a plenty of visceral, bone-crunching action.
Neeson does seem a bit less engaged this time out, but, once the action kicks into high gear, he effortlessly slips back into his patented Frankenstein-meets-Chuck Norris thing, and whoops untold amount of ass. Janssen does her best with what she has to work with, but spends much of the movie either unconscious or wearing a black bag over her head. Grace, meanwhile, is given a much bigger role this time out as she’s instrumental in freeing Bryan from his captors, but I’d be lying if I didn’t do a little happy dance once she was finally relegated to the sidelines.
Personally, I enjoyed Taken 2, but I will admit to having a little bit of fun at its expense. I mean, it’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity of Kim (remember the bit about having no license from back in paragraph two?) racing her way through Istanbul’s narrow streets and outdriving both cops and professional hitmen, or Bryan asking her to lob hand grenades in the middle of a densely populated city so that he can use the sound of the explosion to determine her distance to him. It’s all pretty silly, really, but no more so than myriad other action movie sequels, many of which I count amongst my favorite guilty pleasures.
Fox brings Taken 2 to Blu-ray in full 1080p glory, with a flawless 2.39:1 transfer that boasts exceptional clarity and detail. Colors are somewhat muted, with a mix of yellow/orange warm tones and an abundance of cool blues and seafoam greens; pretty much the de rigueur aesthete for action flicks these days. There’s a fine coat of cinematic grain that lends the image a somewhat grungy, almost documentarian style, and makes the action scenes feel that that much more up close and personal. The complimenting 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is a bit understated, but still offers plenty of punch when it counts, especially during the many bouts of fisticuffs and gunplay.
In addition to both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film (the latter sporting a bit more by way of blood, but nothing else that I found dramatically different), extras include a collection of deleted scenes (HD), three “blink and you’ll miss ‘em” featurettes (HD), and trailers for this and other Fox releases. The one substantial supplement is an alternate ending (HD) that runs for nearly a third of the length of the film! Yes, I’m talking about a twenty five minute alternate ending that deviates substantially from that of the finished product. I won’t ruin it for anyone, but I actually sort of preferred it.
The bottom line is this; if you liked Taken, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t at least be moderately entertained by Taken 2 as they’re pretty much the same movie. As with anything, however, your mileage (and tolerance) may vary, so I’d suggest a rental first.