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The original Taken was a surprise hit for writer/producer Luc Besson and star Liam Neeson, who used the film as a springboard into more mindless action films, like The A-Team, Unknown, and Battleship. Good for Neeson, as he continued challenging himself between easy paydays with stuff like The Grey, but bad for Besson, whose name used to mean something back when he was still directing films, like La Femme Nikitia and Leon: The Professional. Besson has been co-writing and producing interchangeable, bland money-makers for over a decade now and sometimes he negates the need to defend the interchangeability of these films by making an unneeded sequel. Following the events of the first film, angst-ridden, one-man killing machine Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is joined in Istanbul by his rescued daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and estranged ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), where they intend on enjoying a peaceful period away from violence. But before you can say ‘ Die Hard 2: Die Harder,’ Murad (Rade Serbedzija), the guy that hired all the guys Bryan killed saving his daughter last time around (including Murad’s own son), sics another gang of culturally undeterminable thugs on the family. From here, Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen throw every conceivable action thriller sequel and divorced family drama cliché imaginable at the screen. Somewhere there is an alternate script where Neeson’s overbearing character is entirely to blame for everything that goes wrong in the film and thus a sort of accidental villain. Apparently, a subversive approach is too much to ask for, so we’re left with an inadvertently funny replay of many of the first film’s moments.

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The problem I keep running into when I review these films is that there are simply so many other similar films I’d rather be watching. Even though Taken 2 is well-made and acted, it simply festers as a larger budget version of a Steven Seagal quickie from two decades ago. I understand that younger viewers and viewers that don’t spend nearly as much of their free time engulfed in vintage B-action films can still enjoy a retread such as this, and that stuff like Taken 2 is really just the heir to the throne of the Dirty Harry and Die Hard franchises (though it appears Die Hard will continue to soldier on, despite entirely losing its way during the last entry). In this regard, Taken 2 is not made for me, but for someone either new to B-action that doesn’t care to educate themselves in decades worth of (usually bad) movies or someone so fond of B-action that they need to continue absorbing it, lest they die of lack of explosive schlock. What I hope to get out of something like Taken 2 is a ‘bigger’ experience. I know I’m not going to get an interesting story and I know that the actors are going to do much more than slide through the motions, so I expect more elaborate and violent action set-pieces. Of course, a major problem I had with the original Taken was that it was supposed to be a brutal experience, but was hampered by a larger-audience-friendly PG-13 rating. Even the unrated video release version was pretty weak, equating a very soft R-rating at best.

Taken 2, which I only took the time to watch in its apparently more brutal unrated version, not its supposedly censored theatrical cut, is generally more of the same. Sure, it’s violent – there is an enhanced interrogation that features a lot of punching and an off-camera leg stabbing, there are a few nominally bloody gunshot squibs (a dude has his foot demolished), Neeson stabs a dude in the neck and throws some guys down a stairwell, and Serbedzija does threatening things with scissors to Famke Janssen. Among this vague viscera, most of the gore is left to our imagination and, when we’re measuring a movie’s success in terms of violent action, this is disappointing. I’m not saying I’d be particularly comfortable allowing a child to watch Taken 2 either, so I’m not sure who exactly is benefiting from this middle-ground treatment of violence. For lack of a more mature word, I’d like to refer to it as ‘lame.’ Not that it really matters, since the whole film is shot so badly that we wouldn’t be able to discern a gore effect, anyway.

Taken 2
Director Olivier Megaton has become Besson’s go-to guy for unnecessary sequels when Louis Leterrier left the Transporter series at two. Leterrier was likely the most talented of Besson’s repertory company and Pierre Morel ( District 13, the original Taken) was moved up from B to A position. Megaton’s only non-sequel for Besson was among the producer’s most generic films – last year’s Colombiana (which started its life as a sequel to Leon: The Professional). It appears that Megaton hates the human eye, because he and editors Camille Delamarre and Vincent Tabaillon refuse to let any shot linger long enough for the human ocular nerves to focus. It also appears he shot every scene, even the simplest character-to-character discussion, with at least three cameras. It’s sort of like he’s doing an impression of Michael Bay, but he just isn’t quite sure how to recreate Bay’s occasionally weighted sense of movement. I will admit that this ants-in-the-pants approach to editing keeps the monotonous storyline moving, but can find no excuse for Megaton’s unattractive misuse of shaky-cam and crash-zoom techniques. The fisticuffs are left a choppy blur of colour and noise that I can’t believe anyone considers exciting or entertaining to watch.

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Taken 2 was shot on Super 35mm (open matte, according to the framing on the deleted scenes) using Arri cameras and this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer does a nice job showing off the high contrast and rich textures. The film’s overall look is relatively consistent and made up of a whole lot of fine foreground detail, relatively complex, but usually slightly out of focus backdrops (location establishing shots being a very sharp exception), and a fine, consistent sheen of film grain. There’s a lot of deep, dark blackness utilized as a shortcut to ‘moody’ and, had it not been for the overall clarity, I assume much of the action would turn to mud. The sharp highlights and fine, gritty facial textures are rarely lost in the heavy shadows and the lines created against these crushed blacks rarely feature more than a hint of edge enhancement. This brings us to the colour palette, which is ridiculous. There’s nothing natural about the consistent hues Megaton and cinematographer Romain Lacourbas utilize to create their weirdly saturated compositions. It seems that the orange and teal is becoming old hat already – the new normal is yellow and cyan! Clearly, I missed the subtext that explained why every character has jaundice and why they dyed their hair blue. This goofy pallet does cut very nicely, includes some surprisingly subtle yellow-to-cyan blends, and the occasionally poppy red element (equally and unnaturally consistent, of course) are quite vibrant without a lot of bleeding.

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Besson half-asses these scripts and his directors often seem unsure of their motives, but someone is always on point when it comes to an audio mix. It appears that a gentleman named Frederic Dubois is responsible for the sound editing on most of these films and as is the one continuously successful element in these mostly worthless Besson productions. The over-cut, badly shot fight sequences benefit heavily from the punchy sounds of swishing and connecting weapons/fists. The car/foot-chases and shootouts tend to stand out as the most aggressive aural moments, but the bits where Neeson locates his prison via aural cues is the most creative and directionally impressive pieces of sound design. The one issue I have with the track is that the dialogue volume tends to be a bit inconsistent, especially where location noise reduction is concerned. Neeson’s voice is quite often the loudest thing on the entire soundtrack. Nathaniel Méchaly’s music is mostly made up of non-melodic string swells, heavy drum hits, and abstract bass pumps. It makes a decent ambient showing and fills out the channels during the quieter moments, including some decent directional involvement to the more electronic instrumentations. Source music is treated similarly and often starts a sequence with a nice stereo whirl.

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The extras begin with a Black Ops Field Manual in-film option (available for the unrated version only). This is a pop-up mode that includes various factoids about the CIA and terrorist cells, technical specs on the characters, a running list of miles/kilometers traveled by the main character, and a running tally of the people he’s killed and injured. The same thing was included as part of the Blu-ray release of the original film as well. Sam’s Tools of the Trade continues this experience with a virtual weapons/tech case. It includes a ‘play all’ option (3:30, HD) and a click and listen option. Other extras include five deleted/extended scenes (7:00, HD), and an alternate ending (totaling 25:00 because of structural changes in the lead-up, HD), FX Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Liam Neeson featurette (5:00, SD), and trailers.

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Taken 2 can be entirely defined by the car chase sequence that kicks off the third act. Here, Neeson lifelessly berates his daughter to ‘c’mon, go faster, you can do it, don’t stop.’ It’s a microcosm sample of the film’s insistence on existing, despite no one involved really caring either way. Assuming you’re among the apparently millions of people that liked both this and the previous film, you are in for a very nice Blu-ray treatment, including a very crisp 1080p transfer and a loud DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras are a bit thin, but do feature a lot of alternate footage.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.