Cast your mind back a few years. Liam Neeson was an actor who added class and gravitas to a project. Gangs of New York, Kinsey, Batman Begins and Breakfast on Pluto all benefited from the presence of Ballymena’s finest. Then, in early spring 2008, a new Luc Besson-produced movie called Taken premiered in France. It took almost a year but eventually the film’s good word of mouth and rave reviews saw it get a big American theatrical release. Neeson was officially reborn as a bonafide action star, but tragedy struck when little over a month later his wife Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident.
It may seem trivial and insensitive to try and create any link between the two events, but looking at Neeson’s choice of role since his wife died shows a new-found preference for big scale productions rather than any character-driven work. Sometimes these performances are wonderful (The Grey is one of my favourites of the year and his small role in Battleship is one of the film’s better assets) but more often than not it’s resulted in forgettable drivel like The A-Team and Clash of the Titans. Even in the interviews he gives there are definite limits on what he’ll discuss and it’s impossible to tell if he is really revelling in his new identity or just playing the game as he puts together a tidy retirement kitty.
Anyway bear all that in mind as we consider Neeson’s latest workout, Taken 2. A simple little sequel that gets the old gang back together for another romp around Europe – surely a bit of harmless fun, right?
The film sees Neeson’s retired CIA man Bryan Mills is enjoying a few days break in Istanbul with his wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace) when they are taken hostage by the father of one of the men Mills gazumped in the first film. He has to escape, ensure the safety of his wife and daughter and exact revenge.
The great thing about Taken was the pacing and energy that meant everything between the big fights and action set-pieces added something and you actually cared about what happened to Mills and his daughter. Sadly at no point in the sequel is there any real tension and within 15 minutes it becomes painfully obvious just how things will play out.
So there’s no story, but that’s OK as it’s only a dumb action film, right? Well this year’s Bourne Legacy is the perfect example of a plot-less movie which ends up being a blast because the action is so damn good. Here the fights, car chases and explosions are all distinctly sterile and feel like they’ve been edited by the team of Turkish hardmen working as extras in the film.
The first film’s rating was 15 (later to become 18 on the uncut DVD) but here we’re subjected to the “mild peril” that comes with a 12A certificate. The amusing thing is that the Irish Film Classification Office originally gave the film a 15A rating which was later downgraded to 12A after an appeal. Can you imagine the phonecall? “Seriously Mr. Censor, haven’t you even watched the bloody thing? We edited out everything! It’s deliberately über-lame!”. The sad and worrying thing is that the risk paid off with the film taking in $117 million internationally in its opening weekend on a budget of $80million.
Considering the greedy and nullifying intent of the film-makers and taking the legacy of the original into account leaves a very sour taste in your mouth and condemns Taken 2 to being nothing but a deplorable, reprehensible piece of cinema.
France / Directed By: Olivier Megaton / Written By: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen / Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace / 91mins / Action / Release: 4 October 2012 (UK/Ireland/US/Canada)
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