Taken (review here) became a surprise hit, a sequel finally arrives. And it delivers pretty much exactly what a Taken sequel needs to deliver. Think of Taken 2 as the Die Hard 2 of the Taken franchise: it adheres to the same basic formula of the original with the slightly diminishing returns inherent in reheating a premise… but does so in such a way as to leave fans of the original satisfied that they have, indeed, just seen another Taken movie. Gone, sadly, is the element of surprise that worked so well for the first film, when anything seemed possible around any corner. (I’ve never seen an audience uniformly gasp and jump in their seats the way they did when Neeson’s character suddenly shot someone in the arm unexpectedly.) That’s not really possible the second time around. So what we’re left with instead is the other thing that drove the original: Liam Neeson being a badass in a foreign city. And when the city is as photogenic as Istanbul is, that’s enough for me.
Fury on the Bosphorous and From Istanbul, Orders to Kill, actual Turkish spy films like Golden Boy, and neo-Eurospy entries like The International. I’m happy to report that the ancient city uniquely bridging East and West is well-utilized in Taken 2 (though sadly Neeson never threatens to “tear down the Topkapi Palace” if he has to).
The movie’s plot is a direct continuation of the first film… though not so direct that you couldn’t pick it up easily enough not having seen that one. After former CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) used his “unique skill set” to save his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from Albanian sex traffickers in Paris, Kim has returned to her home in Beverly Hills and tried to get on with her life. Thus we begin, per formula, with the same sort of cheesy domestic scenes that began the first movie, but they’re far less excruciating this time—even enjoyable. That can mainly be credited to Grace. If there were a Golden Globe for “Most Improved,” Maggie Grace would surely win it hands-down! No doubt slightly embarrassed being a 29-year-old playing a 16-year-old, in the first film she overcompensated by playing Kim like she was 8. Not this time. Now (perhaps thanks to her experience playing a full-grown heroine in another Besson-produced neo-Eurospy flick, Lockout), Kim is a functioning adult. (Well, teenager. She still hasn’t passed her driving test.)
Luckily, when Bryan and Lenore are, ahem, taken (after a rousing pursuit through the city’s old world streets and bazaars), Kim is back at the hotel hanging out by the pool. This enables Bryan, through some ingenuity learned in the CIA, to secretly contact her and instruct her on how to find the location where her parents are being held. His circuitous plan involves Kim throwing hand grenades all over Istanbul (don’t ask), but it’s suitably filmic and fun to watch—and it works! The film’s best scenes involve Mills and his daughter teaming up to save Lenore. Whether Bryan is talking Kim through a rooftop foot chase over a cell phone or shouting driving instructions at her during a high-speed car chase through the labyrinthine streets of Istanbul, the high-octane father/daughter bonding adds a welcome new dimension to the Taken formula.