Directed by Olivier Megaton
This sequel does something action movies rarely do: it acknowledges the humanity of its faceless victims of violence, those who are shot or whose necks are quickly snapped. In the first Taken, Liam Neeson tore through France looking for his daughter, who'd been kidnapped by Albanian sex-traffickers while traveling abroad, destroying all infrastructure that stood in his way, killing any man who crossed his path. It was both a straight-faced instant classic and a sly satire, a look at American Bush-era operatives abroad, indifferent to the lives and properties of foreign peoples when a white girl's virginity was at stake.
In the follow-up, the families of Neeson's victims, the slaughtered criminals, seek revenge. (This time he is taken, along with his ex-wife, on the streets of Istanbul.) Sure, those dead men may have been involved in sexual slavery, either as ringleaders or as muscle, but they were also fathers and husbands, sons and grandsons. Taken 2 almost—almost—asks us to consider it a matter of perspective, a problem of moral equivalency. But the movie, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who worked on the first film and the Transporter series), can't go all the way: these are, after all, really bad criminals. In this battle between America and Islam, the former ultimately maintains both might and right.
Neeson, again the overbearing and fastidious father, makes a great hero, from his semi-accented basso to the way his eyes start to water over everything: a proposed vacation, his daughter having a boyfriend. (The best French action movies are the ones with heroes who cry.) This time, with his daughter's help, he causes the same sort of havoc on foreign streets, smashing stolen cars down narrow Turkish alleys, even through the fortified front gate of the American embassy. (Biggest laugh line at the screening I attended: "Go to the American embassy. You'll be safe.") He also takes down a few Turkish policemen—don't worry, they're corrupt!—and, of course, countless Albanian gangsters.
Er, that is, fathers and sons and grandsons. Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper, Neeson tries to close the potentially perpetual cycle of violence in which he finds himself—the family rivalry that could go on forever, so many more sons do these aggrieved family members have, so invincible is Neeson. But Taken 2 instead chooses to leave this loop open—for a few more Takens, maybe? It concludes in sun-soaked peace and prosperity, at an oceanside ice cream parlor, the American affluence in stark contrast, as it has been throughout, to the grimy poverty of the near East. Neeson's daughter's new boyfriend walks in. "Don't shoot this one, dad," she says. "I like him." Everybody chuckles, like the end of an old-fashioned sitcom. And after all the death, all the destruction, all the senseless pain and misery and violence of the last 90 minutes, I think the only proper response to this callous disregard for human life is to be deeply disturbed. For God's sake, those were somebody's fathers.
Opens October 5