Once Upon a Time in “Istanbul”
Unlike other senior action headliners returning to the genre in an attempt to cash-in on their popularity and reputation, Liam Neeson made his debut in mainstream action cinema late on in his acting career. Pierre Morel’s 2008-hit Taken was the spark that ignited the, then fifty-six year old, actor’s remarkable rejuvenation that saw him subsequently star in at least eight action flicks. Four years since the original, Neeson returns to his role as retired CIA operative Bryan Mills for a predictable sequel, but in this case under the direction of the underwhelming, but brilliantly named Olivier Megaton.
Taken 2 is cast from the same mould as its predecessor and the narrative carries on from where the previous film left off. However, in terms of action set pieces, Megaton regrettably abandons Morel’s gratifying approach and imparts his own ill-conceived style that amplifies every piece of implausible action and makes the previous intense actioner appear subtle.
Morel’s original pushed its luck with suspension of disbelief, but fortunately the entertainment value and unique experience was enough for even the most cynical viewer to become engrossed within Action Neeson’s high-octane, neck-chopping tour of Eastern Europe. Disappointingly, Megaton fails to match this level of craft and his action sequences are far too ludicrous.
The only benefit regarding Megaton’s effort is his well-crafted fight sequences, but that is largely due to impressive editing, camera operation and most significantly Alain Figlarz exceptional stunt choreography. There is something tactfully Bourne-like about the hand-to-hand combat in Taken 2 (which comes as little surprise when you consider the choreographer worked on The Bourne Identity). Each fist fight is treated with an unprecedented level of subtlety that focuses on finesse rather than heavy-hitting. Not only are these entertaining scenes superbly created, but they are the only semblance of reality the film portrays.
The biggest issue with Megaton’s Taken 2 is that not a single one of these well executed action set pieces can revive it from its criminally offensive, ill-informed and outdated representation of Istanbul. Rather than depicting the thriving, developed city it is, Megaton ignores facts and presents a rudimentary, foreign land where a series of grenade explosions, rooftop chases and street-side gunfights never seem out of place.
Yet, these are not the most disappointing aspects of Taken 2. The barely endurable film is encapsulated by an awful soundtrack that is an inconsistent blend of unsuitable music and shameless advertisement for popular songs. On two occasions the filmmakers even resort to using iconic pieces of music from Drive’s monumental score that have absolutely no significance for the film, but only serve to remind audiences of a far superior film that they’d certainly prefer to be watching.
Taken 2 is the definition of an inappropriate sequel that simultaneously tarnishes the name of the gritty original as well as severely disappointing the fans who returned for something that at least match its quality.