Taken 2 Review
Save yourself the time and expense and skip this terrible movie.
28"Megaton must be stopped... no matter the cost."
As per my cinema review, here (if you have already read it, fear not, there is a whole new section at the bottom dedicated to the 'Extended, Harder Cut'), I have chosen to use 'edited' Transformers (the TV series) quotes throughout this review because, well a) the script is so terrible, b) they're actually quite appropriate, and c) I reckon that must be where the director got his name from (The way I figure it, he knew Luc Besson was a fan of Transformers from the clip in Leon, and so changed his name to Megatron, only the deed-poll office misheard him, and thought he wanted to name himself after the power of a nuclear bomb. It didn't matter though, Besson was still impressed).
Now some of you might wonder why I'm back here again after already slating the film on its theatrical release. Well, basically, I'm a big sucker for Extended Unrated blah blah Cuts. Somehow, despite the fact that I should know better, a part of me wants to believe that a film which has been cut may, miraculously, be considerably better in its uncut format.
A case in point is the latest Die Hard entry, A Good Day to Die Hard, which, it has recently been announced, has been cut by the Studios in order to earn itself a 12A rating. It's devastating news, particularly following on from the fairly positive fact that it had only recently secured an R rating in the US. Why are we getting a cut version? Well, quite simply, it's because the American R-rating allows for anybody under 17 to still see the film so long as they are accompanied by an adult; whereas the UK 15 rating basically draws the line at 15, no matter who you are with. The 12A rating thus works in a way that's more akin to the R-rating, as both basically allow 30-year-old dads to take their 5-year-old kids with them to see a Die Hard movie. Because that’s, like, what the film is designed for, no? Sigh. I digress.
The basic similarity between Die Hard 5 and Taken 2 is that both are films that people will expect to be better on home formats. Why? Because they are uncut. Unfortunately, the devastating reality – something which I still have trouble coming to terms with – is that harder, longer, uncut editions can seldom do anything significant to save an already-ruined movie. Who knows, maybe Die Hard 5 will surprise me – at the very least it’ll make for a very different Valentine’s Day outing – but I can just see myself waiting for the ‘uncut’ home release to fix anything I didn’t like about the Theatrical Version. Life just doesn’t work out that way.
“Why throw away your life so recklessly?”
“That’s a question you should ask YOURSELF, Megaton.”
Taken 2 was a terrible film at the cinemas, cut or not. This new, extended, harder, uncut, the-way-it-should-have-been version makes very little difference to this already-bad film. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected it to, but, for those who were as foolishly hopeful as I was, I am here to rightly dash that hope.
The theatrical version of Taken 2 is just a cut-to-shreds, badly directed, schizophrenically-edited, zombie-acted, dull thud of a movie which appears to have been written on the back of a used tissue by a guy who thought it up whilst in a coma; scored by a guy who thought it would be fun to completely rip off both the Bourne movies and Drive all in the same film; and censored so severely to appeal to wider teen audiences that the end result doesn’t even have a hint of gritty action-violence to sporadically break up the tedium.
The uncut home formats version only affects one part of this: the cut-to-shreds bit. But when a movie is this badly directed; with such horribly-choreographed and frenetically-shot action sequences, having a few more body blows, knife slashes and neck breaks makes little to no difference.
Could it really be that bad? Well, yes, although it really depends on what mood you’re in. Either you’re going to find it so bad that you never want to watch it again, or you’re going to find it so bad that it’s actually quite amusing, and figure that it’s the kind of movie you don’t mind watching with a few like-minded mates, with beer and pizza, and with the intention of poking fun at it at every turn.
You hopefully weren’t fooled by the trailer. The trailer promised more of the same after Taken, but actually managed to make it look like the movie might have potential – cleverly hiding any of the fight scenes for fear that fans would start panicking about frenetic camerawork. Unfortunately the reality hits you hard in the face: If you thoughtBourne invented shaky-cam, then Taken 2, erm, takes things to a whole new level. Indeed shaky-cam should probably be renamed blur-cam here because it leaves you with little idea what is going on; who is hitting who or with what; and how that guy got on the floor incapacitated/dead.
I guess I better tell you what the plot is about. Well, somehow, despite the first movie being pretty thin on narrative, Taken 2 manages to be positively anorexic by comparison. Worse still, what little plot Takenhad, was just enough to hang some nice action sequences on, ratcheting up the tension so you had that satisfying rollercoaster ride as you cascaded from action scene to action scene. Taken 2 doesn’t even invoke any kind of tension, let alone sustain it – the plot is so threadbare, and often not only implausible but illogical. If Liam Neeson’s character of Bryan Mills from the first movie were to meet his version of Bryan Mills in the sequel, he’d give him a slap.
“Perhaps you’re made of shoddy materials, Megaton!”
The plot goes something like this: remember how Mills killed a whole bunch of people to get his teenage daughter back from the drug-dealing sex-traffickers scumbags who kidnapped her? Well here the relatives of all those dead drug-dealing sex-trafficking scumbags have decided that they’re not very happy with Mills for killing their dead drug-dealing sex-trafficking scumbag kin, and really ought to kill him, and his family, as revenge.
Let me just start by commenting that this is a terrible set-up. It would have been infinitely better to at least have the family members – also scumbag gangsters – acknowledge that the chosen profession of their brethren was likely to see them sent to an early grave sooner or later, but that revenge was necessary to maintain the family name; to ensure that the crime family didn’t lose face. Or something. Having veteran character actor Rade Serbedzija (M:i-2) give long speeches about how mournful the loss is, and how they will never get to see their lost brothers, and sons and husbands and fathers again is just stupid, and smacks of utter ignorance on the part of a villain whose utter conviction is supposed to be believable. Honestly, if they didn’t want to risk ending up dead then maybe they shouldn’t have been drug-dealing sex-trafficking scumbags for a living.
Right, moving on, Mills goes on holiday with his daughter and his ex-wife who, he’s hoping, won’t be an ex for very much longer. She’s split up with her rich second husband, and is miserable, and still has a thing for Mills (something to do with the fact that he killed his way to getting their daughter back safely in the first movie). So they’re all out in Istanbul. Mills has just finished a three-day stint as bodyguard for some boring rich dude, and so they’re going to relax for a bit and forget about the horror they went through last time.
Again, this would have been the perfect opportunity for a bit of early action (like they did in the first movie when Mills was Holly Valance’s bodyguard – I say Holly Valance because she was clearly playing herself: a pretty, young, rich, spoiled wannabe singer) by having somebody take a shot at the guy Mills is protecting. But, no. No early action here. We’re going to have to wait. And wait. And wait.
“Remember our agreement, Megaton: the Earth is to be mine once you are through with it.” (Besson to Megaton)
Did I mention the prologue where Mills is teaching her daughter how to drive? Oh, how could I forget?! Well it’s this really cute scene where.... No, sorry, it’s not. It’s terrible. And BORING. It’s not character-building. Hell, these characters had more character before the second movie even began. We know what they are about, so cut to the action already. Anyway, the significance of this driving lark is non-existent. It just ties up the movie with a cute little epilogue. And I say ‘cute’ lest I get caught out by the swear filter. Feel free to replace with any suitable expletive.
The worst thing about it is that it is yet another wasted opportunity. Had they changed the plot slightly and had Mills teaching his daughter defensive driving at the start (they could have maintained the thread about her repeatedly failing her tests, and argued that it was because she knew how to drive, but not in a conventional way), that way it would have tied in to the later scenes where we get to see herdrive like Jason Bourne. I kid you not. No, instead we get to see her parallel parking at the start of the movie. Only it’s not parallel parking, it’s basically just reversing next to the curb. (Does nobody in the production actually know what parallel parking is? It’s when you reverse into a space between two parked cars, not in front of just one. Reversing up to the curb in front of just one car is simply calledparking. FYI filmmakers.)
Anyways, so they’re out in Istanbul and they get attacked. Mills’s spidey-sense kicks in early on and he tries his best to fend off his attackers but his actions are frustrated by the fact that they have his wife hostage. Miraculously he has the opportunity to call his daughter and warn her so that she can do something moderately silly and avoid them (although that’s mostly due to the fact that her attackers are idiots who draw far too much attention to themselves). Once ‘taken’, Mills has to formulate a plan to escape, whilst simultaneously arranging for his daughter to join in on the action.
Again, there are a couple of vaguely nice ideas in here, but the execution is terrible, and the ideas themselves aren’t even fully honed. Where in the first movie Mills showed a keen sense of precision, attention to detail and excellent improvisational skills, here he just seems OCD, sometimes even lapsing into Rain Man territory. In one scene, in the back of a van with a shroud over his head, he memorises every sound, every turn of the wheel, every gear shift – all the while calculating the distance by counting ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ (does that work when you can’t tell what speed the vehicle is travelling?!). It could have worked, had they done it cleverly, but here it’s just Bryan memorising directions by saying them out aloud. You’ll either find it irritating as hell or unintentionally hilarious, or both. Why his captives sitting next to him don’t beat him around the head until he falls unconscious or at least drive around in circles a few times until he loses his sense of direction I have no idea.
“You, Megaton, tricked us. Bad Megaton.”
The act of dissecting all of the terrible ideas, or terribly-implementedaverage ideas, which went into this piece could go on forever – it’d probably be a whole lot more interesting than actually watching the movie – but there’s only so much time you want to spend dwelling on the stupid plans of the villain; the ineffective and wholly abortive death-by-bleeding-out scenario that they put into place; the easy-to-escape plastic tags they use to secure their victims; and the insulting fact that the majority of the movie’s supposedly thrilling plot takes place purely because Mills chooses three times to leave his wife alone to be re-captured. Once was forgivable. Twice was irritating but vaguely justifiable. Three times and you graduate to honorary villain statusyourself for being such a stupid hero that you do a better job at perpetuating the villains’ plans than they do themselves.
There is one last thing you need to know about the plot, however. In one of the film’s absolute ‘high’ points (i.e. most unintentionally funny lows), Mills instructs his daughter to navigate her way to the place where he is being held. In order to gauge just how far away she is, he tells her to throw a series of live grenades out into the streets of Istanbul so that he can time the distance away she is. Was Besson on drugs when he came up with this idea? Did nobody think that this was absolutely insane? They’re in a crowded city, for God’s sake. It’s possibly the worst moment in the film – where you’ll either laugh, or cry, neither of which are the intended reactions. A subsequent sequence where Mills shoots a (corrupt) Turkish cop before crashing through the gatepost at the heavily guarded American Embassy is almost as bad, mostly because all it takes is one phone call before he’s back out on the streets looking for his wife (the Turkish authorities must not really like their own cops very much), but the grenade idea? That takes the cake.
“Give it up, Megaton!”
Whole books could be written about how terrible this story is but it wouldn’t matter one bit if the action was up to scratch. Even the most demented ideas would fall by the wayside if what we got was some hard-hitting Liam Neeson ground-pounding. After all, Taken wasn’t rocket science – it was a fairly slim plot populated by intense action sequences featuring a known, quality dramatic actor who clinically beat and shot his way through swathes of bad guys just to get to his daughter. I wouldn’t have minded one bit if Taken 2 was exactly the same plot – fighting to get back his wife, or even his daughter, again – as long as he kicked some serious ass.
Indeed Neeson’s Mills takes to his opponents with guns, chains, nightsticks, or just his bare hands; furiously fighting off multiple enemies at the same time; getting into all the scraps that you could hope for from him; and killing at least as many people as he did first time out. Unfortunately the closest you’ll get to seeing any of this take place is probably the still photos running down the side of this review. The action in Taken 2 is just a terrible blur. You honestly have no idea what is going on, they are just such frenetic, hyperactively-edited fight scenes that you can’t see a damn thing. All of a sudden Mills will be attacked by guys with sticks. Then, a fraction of a second later he’ll have one himself. Then one of the guys will be choking. Then two of them will be on the floor. You’ll wonder what happened to the third guy, but it all happens so fast you’ll start to wonder whether there even was a third guy.
This isn’t a problem with violence being edited out – that’s a separate matter – but this is actually more of a problem with the directing and editing. It’s a mess. Taken was brilliant at depicting a middle-aged guy with a solid fighting skill-set, taking down opponents in a convincing way. You believed Liam Neeson could do it. You believed in the character. Here he’s been treated like an ageing Steven Seagal, i.e. the filmmakers appear to be so concerned that he may not look convincing that they attempt to compensate by filming the fights in a blurry frenzy, all slaps and impossibly fast blows – only you don’t know who they’ve come from or who they’ve hit. It’s terrible.
“Let's see how Megaton likes a dose of his own medicine.”
There is one decent fight, coming at the tail end of the piece. It’s reasonably well-choreographed. You can actually see a bit of decent choreography coming into play here. It’s just a shame that the towering 6’4” Neeson has to take on some tracksuit-wearing thug who looks like an East European Joe Pesci. I don’t care that the guy can fight, you just feel sorry for him. He’s about 5” tall, and he doesn’t even look like he’s in shape. He’s so outmatched that, if this was a different movie, you’d be rooting for him to win. What kind of end-of-level-baddie is this?
Could it possibly get any worse? Terrible plot, terrible action, is there anything left to go wrong with this sequel? Well, yes, the ‘original score’ is anything but. It’s actually a Bourne score. It’s more Bourne than the score to Bourne Legacy and, coupled with the driving sequence where one of the characters – who doesn’t even have her licence because she can’t fake parallel park – drives like Jason Bourne, it just comes off asinsulting, not enhancing. I know that imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, but outright plagiarism is a whole different kettle of fish. Nathaniel Mechaly, who allegedly came up with this hack-job abomination, takes things to a whole new level, not only ripping offBourne for the score, but actually taking two direct tracks from theDrive score to use in this movie. Imagine my surprise when ‘the tick of the clock’ track from one of the greatest movies of 2011 is used for, well, the tick of the clock in one of the least eventful, least tense sequences in Taken 2. Any fan of Drive will shudder to even read this, just imagine what reaction it will invoke if you see the scene in all its (in)glory.
Is there anything good to say about Taken 2? Well, not really. Neeson tries to remain professional, but, just as he must have been thoroughly impressed with how capable they made him look as a convincing action actor in the first movie, he must have been shocked that they did such a terrible job here. He probably had a few clues about how badly it was going to go wrong when they asked him to film the grenade scene, or fight Joe Pesci, but perhaps he figured it would be edited together in post-production with some kind of competence. Alas, all he’s left with is a pay-cheque and a grudge that is probably the reason why he’s already announced he won’t be back for a third movie (even though the end of Taken 2 blatantly sets it up for one).
“Don’t just stand there! DO something! Your new leader orders you to slay Megaton!”
Famke Janssen has nothing to do by be tied up semi-comatose, and the facial work done to her eyes looks awful, leaving her with that curious glazed look a bit like Roger Moore in A View to a Kill. It’s such a shame because, whilst not striking out as one of the greatest actresses, at least she’s been known to be capable of emoting. That’s long gone now. Actually, I suppose I can say something positive about Maggie Grace (Lockout, Faster). Which is ironic, because she was bewilderingly irritating in the first film, like a twenty-five-year-old with the brain of an eight-year-old. I expected her to be just as bad here, but she’s actually alright. You even feel sorry for her when she’s driving around the streets like a Jason Bourne pro, and all Neeson can do is bark “DRIVE FASTER!”; “FASTER KIM!”; “YOU’VE GOT TO GO FASTER!!” as advice. I only wished she’d shouted back “I go any faster and we’re gonna’ go back in time.” Then at least there would have been one good line.
So save yourself some agony. I took one for the team here (or two if you consider the fact that I reviewed this at the cinemas as well). I’ve endured this mess so that you don’t have to. Don’t waste your time on films this bad; don’t give Megaton any possible reason to think that his movies (Colombiana, Transporter 3) are actually any good. Because they’re not, and, as if it were possible, they’re actually getting increasingly worse as he goes along. Taken 2is undoubtedly one of the worst films that I have seen in a long time. So bad it’s actually good? Depends what mood you’re in; for the most part you may just find this one so bad it’s bad.
Theatrical Cut vs. Extended Harder Cut (NB. Extras include an Alternate Ending)
For those who are specifically interested in the differences between the two versions, I have to say, they are remarkably difficult to discern. Although, technically, it amounts to an extra 6 minutes of footage, little of this falls into the ‘harder’ category, with the majority instead falling under the ‘extended’ part of the ‘extended, harder cut’. What’s throwaway? Another minute of Kim and her new boyfriend. Another minute with Kim torturing her dad into going to a club. There’s also about an extra minute of Mills running around evading bad guys. And some more of him walking too. Sigh.
When it comes to material you might regard as ‘harder’, well the early torture sequence is slightly less disjointed, although arguably not visually more explicit (just impliedly so). We get several more visible bullet impacts, strewn across the piece (don’t you love those CG blood wounds, a la Die Hard 4.0?!). Mills takes a bit of a beating whilst being hung up. He also kills somebody by crushing their larynx with a gun. And we finally get to hear the actual neck break when he kills the waiting guard.
The penultimate hand-to-hand combat fight is longer, although it’s hard to tell quite how. I think at one point Mills does some damage to his opponent with a door knob. But who knows. Then the final fight has a few extra frames in it; some feeble eye gouging and finger-pulling, none of which really makes up for the fact that Mills’s opponent is still massively outmatched.
All in all, as I’ve previously alluded to, none of this extra ‘harder’ footage makes a jot of difference to the almost incoherent way in which the action has been shot; it’s still just as hard to tell what is going on, leaving the fights largely anticlimactic. Where Taken had a brutal tone, Taken 2 always feels PG-13, even if some of these brief moments had to be cut in order to secure that rating.
“Just wait Megaton. One of these days I will have my revenge.”
What is finally worth noting is the Alternate Ending. Now I know this isn’t actually available to watch as part of the main feature – neither the Theatrical Cut nor the Extended Cut offer up the Alternate Ending – but it’s almost worth stopping the movie (on either version) at the appropriate moment and starting up the Alternate Ending available in the Extras. It’s not that’s it’s a good Alternate Ending, it’s that it is a better ending than the final cut version.
It’s 25 minutes long and was reportedly the original way in which Megaton shot the end of the film. He obviously changed his mind and, through a couple of brief re-shoots and some extensive re-editing, turned in the different version, but his original vision was arguably slightly more satisfying. The key difference is fairly important: Mills saves his wife halfway through the movie. She’s with Mills and Kim when they make their ludicrous getaway to the Embassy.
How does this help? Well, firstly it makes the ‘Tick of the Clock’ rip-off of the score from Drive marginally more acceptable – at least here it’s played when Mills actually recovers his wife, rather than in the final cut, where it’s just played whilst Mills walks around a little bit! Secondly, it allows the final action-ending to be a more satisfying revenge-fuelled sequence, which does actually feel a little more Taken-like, rather than Taken-lite. Mills chases the villains through the streets and eventually ends up finishing them off in the same way as in the Theatrical Cut, but it still works better. But apparently the director didn’t like the fact that Mills was no longer motivated by recovering his wife and instead was purely out for blood – personally I think he missed an opportunity here. Certainly, even if the ‘Extended, Harder Cut’ comes as a disappointment, this Alternate Ending is still worth checking out. It doesn’t make Taken 2 a good film, it just makes the experience slightly better.
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