Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sweet Revenge

It's really not rare for a studio to create a sequel to a popular movie. It's also not rare for said sequel to change little in what made the dynamic of the first movie work so well. It IS however rare for that sequel to then match the actual quality of the original, without feeling like more of the same. Expendables 2, anyone? The Hangover: Part 2? Ghostbusters 2, Home Alone 2, Rocky II, the list goes on. And on, and on, and on. With few exceptions, these sequels changed only cosmetic details of the plot, resulting in the exact same tale all over again. And almost all of them were of lesser quality than their predecessors, to boot. So when you see the trailers for Taken 2, with all the violence and action of Pierre Morel's Taken but with none of lead actor Liam Neeson's patented "certain set of skills" speech, you have to wonder if this sequel was just going to be a poorly-made copy. On the other hand, with Taken hardly holding a complicated premise, perhaps more of the same wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Just turned 60: can still kick ass.
Taken 2 plays straight out of a classic revenge tale; former CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) has reunited with his family after the events of Taken, and continued with his bodyguard work. With ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) split from her new husband and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) still recovering from the shock of her kidnapping in Paris, Bryan invites them to Istanbul, where he has just completed a security contract, to help take their minds off of their troubles. But while they think the evils of the world are long gone, they don't realize that Bryan is a hunted man. The families of the men he killed in France have sworn revenge, and now an Albanian hit squad has infiltrated Istanbul. Their mission? To kidnap Bryan and his family, and to make him suffer for their losses. Our hero will have to fall back on all his "special skills" to neutralize the threat and keep his family out of danger and get them back home safely.

Talking on the phone while committing mass murder may soon be against the law.
Yes, it's clearly the same plot as the first movie; hell, for a few minor details, it's EXACTLY the same thing. Director Olivier Megaton picks up everything Morel did the first time around and ran with it, but while the man behind the fun Colombiana  has possibly the best name for an action director, he doesn't have the cajones to let the action carry the movie as much as it should. Besides filming way too many establishing shots, Megaton's idea of fight choreography is to zoom the camera in as closely as he can to disguise what is actually happening. There might be a good reason to do so (Neeson was 59 at the time of filming and is potentially on his last legs as an action star), but it doesn't change the fact that closeup cams are one of the worse crimes Hollywood perpetrates, especially when compared to the expertly captured work of something like Raid: The Redemption (Jeez, I keep referencing this one; maybe I should just own it). When Megaton isn't half-assing fight scenes, he's pitting Bryan Mills against such high odds that what happens on the screen runs the gamut of "Mildly Unbelievable" to "No way in Hell", for instance when he and Kim survive an assault from a heavy machine gun in what must be an armored taxi (well, it IS Turkey...). While I liked the idea that the deaths of all those faceless goons in Taken had consequences in the production of this sequel, it's a concept they barely take so far as to point out that killing all the faceless goons HERE might have a similar effect. Action movies always have to be taken with a grain of salt, but the list of things Bryan manages to survive with barely a scratch gets more and more ridiculous as the story progresses.

Don't worry, she's not in this one much.
Of course, there was really only one good reason to see Taken 2, and that was Neeson himself. Despite treading this ground frequently the past few years (not only in Taken but also Unknown and The Grey), the Irish thespian never fails to make you believe that, given the opportunity, he could and would use your skull as a target and your spine as a punching bag should you piss him off. While he doesn't get a chance to offer up any chilling monologues, Bryan's characterization becomes a "less is more" endeavor, playing up Neeson's pure screen presence. Besides his menacing profile, Neeson does a great job in the investigative side of his character, showing us almost effortlessly why Bryan is so good at his job. He absolutely MAKES Taken 2, and I have no doubt that without his talent as part of the package, this would have just been another mediocre Jason Statham flick.

Putting a face to all the Eastern European criminals out there.
The rest of the cast is, how shall we say it, a mixed bag. You will quickly become tired of Grace and Janssen, the former of which is barely a step up from the simpering mess that was her role in Taken, while the latter not benefiting at all from the extended screen time. Grace, who is following up a VERY similar job in April's Lockout, either doesn't have what it takes to make it as an actress or just doesn't care about the roles she takes. Either way ought to see her doing bad teen slasher flicks in a few years, which might actually force her to emote, so that would be an improvement. And I couldn't get out of my mind that Janssen once was one of Hollywood's darlings, especially in her recurring role as Jean Grey in the X-Men films. Here her emotions are visibly forced, and she is simply out of her element as a performer. The one major cast addition also turns out to be the best: Rade Serbedzija's role as the main baddie might seem like a transparent attempt to put a face to all the corruption and crime in places like Albania, but he does an amazing job chewing scenery, rattling off excellent dialogue and holding his own in the few scenes opposite Neeson. Serbedzija has recently made American audiences aware of his presence, with roles in 24 and Harry Potter, so hopefully this will translate to more Hollywood roles in his future.

Killing folks makes him sad... that doesn't mean he won't do it.
Despite being a carbon copy of the original and featuring more logic holes than an unfinished puzzle book, seeing Bryan Mills (and by extension, Neeson) out for another round of bad-assery will be well worth your time if you enjoyed Taken, and I know that a lot of people did. I went to see this over the weekend with Todd and a few of her co-workers, and we all agreed that while this was one of the stupider movies released in 2012 (the year of Battleship, mind you), it was still a lot of fun if you don't expect too much. This is one of those movies that delivers exactly what it promises, and to be fair if you thought you were getting something more then you don't really understand what Taken is all about. Another sequel would certainly be too much, but for now Neeson and company satisfy your desire for that good action flick you might have been waiting months for, and manages to at least get close to the majesty that was its progenitor. Just turn your brain off, ignore all those silly inconsistencies, and enjoy.

All reviews should end with milkshakes.

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