Liam Neeson was as surprised as anyone when 2008’s Taken turned him from elder statesman into senior-citizen action man.
Yet he is certainly getting used to the idea, having followed The A-Team, Unknown and this year’s The Grey with another jaunt for Bryan Mills, the resourceful ex-agent with the particular set of skills.
Released in the US at the onset of Obama’s presidency, the original Taken clearly owed its paranoia, isolationism and rabid xenophobia to his White House predecessor.
Things aren’t so reactionary this time around, Bryan having gone from a man prone to shooting sheikhs in the head to one happy enough to be a bodyguard to one if the price is right.
He appears to have mellowed on the home front too, having reconciled with estranged ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and bonded afresh with the daughter he liberated four years ago.
Thankfully, producer Luc Besson and directorial protégé Olivier Megaton realise we haven’t come to see Neeson give Maggie Grace’s preposterously virginal Kim driving lessons or her boyfriend a hard time.
We’ve come to watch him kick ass, something Liam finally gets around to about 30 minutes in when the vengeful dad of one of those Balkan heavies (Rade Sherbedgia) visits him Istanbul.
The twist here is Bryan gets “taken”, a state of affairs that lasts as long as it takes Kim to stop her mewling, grow a pair and help him escape.
(This leads to the film’s most ingenious set-piece, involving a map, a shoelace and grenades whose detonations allow our hero to ascertain his location.)
From then on it’s Bourne-style business as usual, with Bryan taking to the city’s cobbled streets, gabled rooftops and busy bazaars in his attempts to dodge the gangsters on his trail and prise Lenore from their grubby clutches.
Business as usual? Not quite.
Taken earned a 15 rating for its ‘strong violence and scene of torture’, bumped up to an 18 on DVD after adding yet more nastiness to the latter.
Taken 2 gets a palatable 12A certificate that mirrors its milder vein of mayhem and paucity of bloodshed, injury and sadism.
Bullets enter walls rather than flesh, blades are brandished instead of utilised, while a supposedly life-threatening slash to Janssen’s neck is left to the imagination.
Even the Turkish bath showdown with Sherbedgia’s chief goon (Alain Figlarz) is resolved in a jiffy.
Should this matter? Probably not.
But it still rankles (especially as there will no doubt be a tougher edit made available somewhere down the line).
It also detracts from the tension, as it’s plain this bunch of scumbags have neither the wit nor will to pose any serious threat to Bryan’s reconstructed family unit.
At one point, the bent Parisian cop from the first film (Olivier Rabourdin) is compelled to reveal Bryan’s whereabouts by a thug wielding a teddy bear.
Taken 2? The only place this film has been taken to is the cutting room.
The brilliantly monikered Megaton is on safer ground during an extended car chase that makes a virtue of Istanbul’s cramped and cluttered thoroughfares while proving it never pays to play chicken with a freight train.
Bond fans, meanwhile, should get a kick out of Bryan’s artillery-stuffed luggage, not to mention landmarks we’ll be viewing again soon in Skyfall.
Turkey’s historic architecture, of course, has nothing on Neeson’s countenance, a physiognomy so craggy you half expect there to be lichen growing out of his wrinkles.
A pity, though, he is not afforded a monologue to match the first film’s “I will find you and I will kill you” speech, or that he is made to precede the last reckoning with a world-weary plea to let bygones be bygones.
Sherbedgia’s Murad winds up getting the best dialogue, declaring at his son’s burial that “Ve will haf our rewenge!” and tellin Bryan he dispatched all his underlings “like they ver so many nuthinks”.
For the most part, alas, the erstwhile 24 star is a two-dimensional villain in a film that struggles at times to be even that multi-faceted.
Taken was no masterpiece and was often thoroughly objectionable. But it still had a drive and a sense of urgency that’s absent here, for all Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s strivings to inject a ticking-clock, real-time element into their co-authored script.
Taken 2 succeeds as an efficient outing for its lead’s grimly relentless brand of virile, dogged fortitude. You only wish it made better use of the particular set of skills he has acquired over a very long career, skills that make him anything but a nightmare for people like us.
"What are you going to do?” wails Maggie. “What I do best!” growls Liam. Yet while it’s fun to watch him take out the Eurotrash, we’ve seen him do it better.