Don't shoot this one. I like him.
Taken 2 is the epitome of the unnecessary sequel. The original was lean, efficient, and narratively self-contained (if morally suspect). It needed no elaboration or follow-up. This movie does not add anything to the experience, but is a cynical attempt to mine the goodwill earned by the first film by tricking its fans into seeing the same movie again. Of course, that last sentence could be written about a lot of sequels.
What does work here, but not as well as in the first installment, is the Mills family dynamic. The emotional core of the estranged father fighting for his daughter against all odds is diminished. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is no longer estranged but trying to help his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) pass her driver’s test, which she has failed three times. Applying the “Kurt Russell Rule,” it is therefore inevitable that Kim will find herself behind the wheel of car in a life-or-death car chase later in the movie.
For the moment, Kim is juggling a new boyfriend (never easy when Dad is obviously fighting the urge to waterboard the lad to learn his intentions) and trying to get her parents back together. Lenore (Famke Janssen) is recovering after her stuff-shirt moneybags second husband left her.
Which leads to problem with either math or time dilation. Kim was 17 years old in the first movie. Since then there has been enough time A) for everyone to get over the trauma of Kim’s abduction in the first film and B) Lenore’s marriage to fall apart and Xander Berkley to split town. A year, maybe two? Kim is 19 and still learning to drive? Her mother also appears more traumatized by her divorce than Kim is from being abducted and nearly sold into sex slavery. The writers seem to have put as much thought into their premise as director Olivier Megaton put into his non de plume.1
To cheer everyone up, Bryan suggests that mother and daughter join him in Istanbul after he finishes his next assignment. In Kim’s shoes, after the experiences of the first movie, I might have suggested Disney World instead.
Going to Istanbul turns out to be as bad an idea as it seems. The patriarch (Rade Serbedzija) the Albanian crime family Bryan decimated in the first movie has sworn revenge on the man who killed his scummy, depraved, worthless, woman-enslaving son. To its credit, Taken 2 opens with a scene we have never witnessed in other action flicks, the funeral of all the anonymous bad guys killed in the first movie.
Too bad the father’s grief feels as empty as the last hour of this movie, a non-stop car chase and gun battle. Once the action starts, everything about this movie will feel overly familiar to fans of the first. If you have seen the first film, you can just watch it again. You’ll see a much better version of the same basic story.