Entertainment

Taken 2

Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson
A scene from Taken 2: Liam John Neeson (born 7 June 1952) has been nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA and three Golden Globe Awards. He has starred in a number of notable films including Schindler's List, Michael Collins, Darkman, Taken and Taken 2, Star Wars, Kinsey, Batman Begins, and the voice of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia film series. | Photo: Taken 2 the movie | Liam Neeson, Actor, Ireland, Sexy, Tough Guy, Taken 2,

Liam: One of my favorites. The sequel: Not so much...

I only just found out that they've made a sequel to the 2008 monologue-marketed Liam Neeson thriller, Taken. My first reaction ' and an appropriate one ' was to see this as another of the increasingly absurd examples of Hollywood's compulsion to turn every vaguely malleable success into a franchise. After all, it's a rather peculiar plot device ' an ex-CIA agent's teenage daughter is kidnapped abroad and he goes on a cross-border rampage to get her back at all costs. It's already annoying how the same things always happen to the same people in movies, but to leverage the content of Taken into a direct sequel seems unusually ridiculous. But wherever there's a promise of rich and effortless payoff, there's also a convoluted justification to be had.

On the other hand, as I read the synopsis for Taken 2 and watched the trailer, I had a very different thought. I got the impression that a sequel could serve as an opportunity to virtually rebut the awful themes of the original. When I watched Taken, I found it to be perfectly entertaining, but a somewhat close reading of it suggested that the entire thing was one long, bloody love letter to American exceptionalism, "enhanced interrogation," extraordinary rendition, and the full range of illegal and unethical practices sometimes undertaken by United States intelligence and military in the name of national security.

As we delight at the practically non-stop, over-the-top action of Taken, we're treated to scenes of a man single-handedly invading foreign territories, disregarding the warnings and protests of personal allies, casually murdering people at every turn, deliberately wounding an innocent bystander to gain information, torturing a man to death, surreptitiously recording conversations, and generally doing whatever the hell he feels like because no one can stop him. All the while, the audience is evidently expected to never stop cheering for him, because he's just a loving father out for justice. The message is clear. I could almost hear the impassioned voice of some New American Century type lecturing, "If it was your own child's life that was on the line, you would do whatever it takes, and you would never stop to think about giving the bad guys rights or legal protection."

It's in light of all of that that I was so interested in the fact that the trailer for the sequel seems to suggest the alternative perspective on this anything-it-takes mentality. It starts with long, dramatic shots of the mass of graves left behind in the wake of the events of the first film, the families of those killed by Bryan Mills' rampage across France swearing revenge. The implication seems to be that violence only breeds more violence in a vicious cycle of killing and terror, which is exactly the sort of thing one might emphasize in arguing against the notion that anything should be permitted if it's aimed at punishing evil. Let the United States as a whole stand in for Neeson's character in both cases and you have a familiar political debate committed to film. So diametrically opposed are the themes on display in Taken and the first moments of the trailer for its sequel that I was surprised to see that both films were written by the same two screenwriters.

The trailer could just as well have established the basis of the plot more quickly, but it spends thirty seconds seemingly demonstrating sympathy for the bad guys. The film itself could very well spend an hour and a half excusing all manner of mindless slaughter after it takes the time to introduce the characters, but until I know otherwise, I'm assuming that the trailer was deliberately cut the way it was, in order to inject a level of nuance that was decidedly lacking from the marketing and overall content of the original Taken. That's pretty remarkable, seeing as Hollywood has proven over and over again that if there's one thing they think audiences don't want to see, it's moral ambiguity.

It's all the more remarkable knowing that the same writers are responsible for both works, and it makes me wonder if something happened to change the character of one or both films. Did they write a less celebratory depiction of political violence in the first place, only to have the studio demand changes to the script for Taken? The sequel was produced by Europa Corp. alone, whereas the original had seven other companies' hands in the pot. Perhaps the individual organization was willing to be a little more adventurous with the plot structure of their newer film. Or maybe the screenwriters simply had a change of heart, which convinced them to look at the subject matter differently this time around.

I'll have to see the actual film before I know whether there's anything to this. That just goes to show that for me, at least, this apparent change in tone is a successful move in marketing the new movie. After all, I would not have been the least bit interested in a ridiculous sequel to an over-the-top action flick if I had no reason to expect anything other than a larger pile of bodies. Now I don't know what to expect, and for all the absurdity, Taken 2 just might be worth watching.

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:59 AM EDT | More details

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