Review: ‘Taken 2’ cements cult of Badass Liam

Posted at 10/03/12 8:38 PM

Quick show of hands: Anyone here watched the first "Taken" movie?

If you’ve seen the first "Taken," expect a little bit more of the same in the sequel but with a better location, less blood and a heart-stopping middle part that’s worth the price of admission. It also solidifies the cult of Liam Neeson as aging action hero-slash-family man with the mind of a Jedi Master, the voice of Aslan and the cunning of a Sam Raimi superhero.

Liam Neeson returns to fight the bad guys in "Taken 2."

“Taken 2” sees retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson) still living the lonely life of a super-bodyguard for hire keeping tabs on his estranged wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). During a trip to Istanbul, Bryan and Lenore are kidnapped by Albanian bad guys who are relatives of the Euro white slavers that kidnapped Kim in the first movie. It is now up to Kim to help her dad and mom escape their captors and wreak bloody revenge.

And that’s it: there are no more major plot points to reveal in this movie because there aren’t any.

The first scene shows unnamed Albanian patriarch swearing revenge against Mills for killing his sons, with dialogue straight from the Standard Bad Guy Playbook. One clever nod to the first movie is how the bad guys trace Mills, which leads to a scene that is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.

Before the kidnapping, Mills hovers over his estranged family like emo-Superman watching over Lois and their son. Lenore mopes as her second marriage falls apart, while Kim adjusts to life as an ex-kidnap victim. It all plays up the sympathy card but it’s still effective. By the time they reach Istanbul, you know that these three damaged people are a family unit.

Spoiling any more of the proceedings feels like an injustice since it’s pretty much all absurdist action cinema from the start of the kidnapping.

What elevates the material is wee Liam himself. In the same way that Liam sells the first movie with just a few lines of dialogue on his “special set of skills,” delivered with the thoughtful grace of  Oskar Schindler himself, you know you’re sold for the rest of the movie.

When Mills and Lenore are finally taken, the familiar phone call to Kim becomes switched – it is the parents who are now abductees. This starts two incredible sequences that show how Mills’ superhuman Jedi mind works. It also gives Kim something to do other than playing the helpless daughter.

By the time Kim starts throwing grenades to help find her father, the packed theater was reacting loudly -- delighted by the absurdity of the action but unwilling to look away because the drama was so compelling.

Did I say drama? One trick that this movie uses to great effect is the cliffhanger rule: just when the movie is in danger of lagging, they put up a time-bound cliffhanger that Mills must overcome to move on to his next task.

Time is a major factor in this movie: it’s like the best episode of “24” stretched out to 91 minutes. It also never loses Liam as the anchor of the movie. You know that Mills is capable of terrible things, especially when he takes down a baddie whose own skills may be a match to his own. But more than that, his character also taps into something primal: the need for a father and husband to protect his family by any means necessary.

By this measure, he is relentless and indestructible. Bullets don’t slide off him but never hit him either. He dispatches tons of bad guys with any tool necessary -- gun, chain, a hard stare -- that by the time we reach the end, you will believe that he can kill with the touch of his hand. You will believe he can kill wolves with broken beer bottles, without pulling out his lightsaber.

And when you start believing that, consider yourself a member of the cult of Badass Liam.