Action movie villains are stupid. And this pretty much summarizes the major problem with this film. I was a fan of the first movie, primarily because it provided a strong protagonist with a convincing character backdrop to suspend your disbelief despite how formulaic and cliche it really was. This film gave us exactly the same story, same tone, same tempo but delivers poorly in comparison, a large part due to the reduced scope of the antagonists. Also, this movie relies heavily on the fact that you've already seen its predecessor to understand the character motivations and most of the interactions in the first half.
In the first film, we had a story where an former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) straining to re-establish his relationship with his naive daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and ends up having to save her as she gets herself entangled in a large scale human trafficking operation in Europe. Thus the difficulty of the rescue operation was more sophisticated and genuinely required his past skills and contacts to make his mission possible (and plausible). The second film was a revenge story played very straight, and there was no thrill; from about halfway into the movie any action film lover could already recite the remainder of the plot.
What are the positives? I'd say the daughter was the most interesting character in this film. I guess partly she had a lot more material to work with. She was kidnapped, drugged, sold as a high-price sex slave and saved by her dad at gunpoint in the previous film. Having to move back into a regular life after this type of trauma is not easy, and Grace does portray these challenges convincingly. It also gives her strong motivation to step up when her family needs her to.
The scenes with Grace in bikinis was a bit of naughty fan service. Unnecessary and inconsequential to the story, yes, but the marketing people decided they needed the sex appeal to fill more seats in the theaters (especially for the trailer). At least she is now over 16 and of legal age I guess (or over 18 since the film's set in Turkey).
Neeson delivers a similar performance as in the first film but with no memorable one-liners; a let down by action movie standards and this franchise's standard. The mother receives no character development in this story. She is just a damsel in distress like her daughter was in the first film. In fact I would say she was less convincing in this film despite having a lot more screen time, as we don't see her have any meaningful interactions other than "I miss you".
But the biggest negative ultimately is the antagonists in this film. While their motivation to hunt Bryan's family is understandable, their capabilities to track down and find Bryan's family is comparatively superior to their gun-power Seriously, it's been over 40 years since action films of this flavor has been around, and no villains decides to take proper fighting/shooting lessons? This type of formula makes me want to skip all action films altogether because it's so predictable and unsuspenseful. And just like how the mother is very one-note, the villains also only have one dimension: "He will pay!"
I think the only time the bad guys within Hollywood films are anywhere near competent is when we the audience are expected to be rooting for them. Here I am talking about films such as Ocean's 11, Inception, and to a lesser extent Entrapment, where the protagonist are actually bad guys or do work that is ethically wrong. Funnily, these are all heist films; I'm sensing this is the other action film formula Hollywood producers alternate to try and camouflage how little credit they give to their audience.
The only exception to these rule I can think of right now is The Terminator series, and perhaps that is why it is considered such a great franchise by both moviegoers and film critic standards, because they worked hard to make the villains genuinely threatening and memorable even if the end result is the same. Times like these I turn to independent films to help push the envelope on how to make a different action flick with fresher ideas.
Anyway I digress. So what's my overall verdict? I loved Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace's performance, the action was standard, and the villains are too plain and painfully cliche. If you liked Taken and hoped this would be another great addition to the franchise, I recommend you just re-watch Taken instead. If you haven't watched either films before, just the first one.
4.0 / 10.0
P.S. I referred to this film like it was a Hollywood production: I know this is actually a French film, but this film uses their formula, so I still label it as "made by Hollywood".