Comic book violence with a warm streak
Taken 2 opens with scenes of gentle warmth before plunging suddenly into unrelenting violence. The mayhem is entirely physical – guns, knives, grenades, and fists all used to carve and pummel victims, and it steps into the unforgivable place by torturing captives. So is there a reason to go? Sure.
Those of you who saw Taken (#1) will remember that an American couple lets their daughter visit a friend in Paris where she is kidnapped. At movie’s end, Bryan Mills, expert CIA killer, swears revenge. This time around, the vengeance is so soaked in the stuff of a comic book action cartoon that we move quickly from being scared to simple astonishment that someone could make this movie with a straight face. What saves it, if that can be said, is that the same good actors from #1 return and win our loyalty with their warmth. We are ready to see them through the ordeal promised by the title.
Bryan (Liam Neeson) and Lenore (Famke Janssen) are the most genuinely affectionate divorced couple to grace the screen in ages. Their adored daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is the center of their lives. When Lenore and Kim’s spring break trip falls through, Bryan invites them to accompany him on his business trip to Turkey (bad idea, Dad, very bad idea for a guy who is already a designated target.) And so the broken but loving family arrives in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, we watch a Turkish father mourning his son who was killed by an American (guess who). He has a small army of men to implement the vengeance he craves - “His blood will run in this very soil.” That’s it: one of these fathers will kill the other.
Brian and Lenore are captured and tortured. Captor to captured wife as he opens a kit of surgeon’s tools: “I will send you back to the U.S. in pieces.” Captor to captured husband: “We’ll sell your daughter to the lowest man.” While hanging handcuffed from a steel bar, Brian manages – by cellphone - to instruct his daughter in the details of how to save her parents. “Blend in,” Dad advises, as the tall, beautiful, bikini-clad, barefoot Kim unleashes hand grenades and shoots attackers as she races across the rooftops of Istanbul.
I said of the first installment that it would have been toast with B actors. True again. Maggie Grace is a terrific live action hero as she leads us through a web of the impossible. Famke Janssen is great whenever she is awake but unfortunately she spends most of her screen time emerging from comas induced by torture. Liam Neeson’s skill and enduring credibility give him license to indulge in the preposterous. All three are so natural and appealing in their pre-violence American scenes that we root for them in spite of ourselves.
The final confrontation proffers an intriguing question of honor that poses a moral challenge for the audience. In this film, that’s a gift.
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