Review: Taken 2 and Video Game Films
Simon Pitt |
Tuesday 25th June
I seem to have got into a habit of watching distinctly average action films several months after they were released.
This weekend was no exception, as I spent it watching Taken 2, starring Liam Neeson as the improbably named Bryan. I can't take him seriously with that name. There's just something about it. It's distinctly boring. Even switching the 'i' for a more exciting 'y' can't jazz it up. I'm sure there are spies and assassins called things like Eric or Derrick, but it just feels wrong somehow.
Bryan Mills has to rescue his wife and daughter from the clutches of some evil Islamic looking people. Bryan is on holiday, but has been tracked down by the friends and families of all the people he killed in the first film.
As I was watching this, it reminded me of something, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. It irritated me, until I realised that the plot of the film is actually an expanded version of a gag from the original Austin Powers film.
In Austin Powers, there are a series of throwaway jokes after Powers kills henchmen. Powers makes a Bond-esque quip, and then we cut to see friends and colleagues of the henchman hearing the news:
Where's Smitty anyway? It's not like him to be late for anything.
Especially not his own stag party.
Well, you know he works as a henchman for Dr. Evil. Sometimes they work late.
You know, can I just say something that may sound a little sappy? I think it is such a tribute to our buddy, John Smith, that so many of his friends showed up to honour him today.
There's a lot of love in this room.
I have a phone call for the John-Smith-party.
Oh. Yeah, I'll get it.
He's dead? Decapitated by an ill-tempered mutated sea bass?
Once I'd made this link to Taken 2, I couldn't really take it seriously anymore. Not that the film is trying very hard.
I'm beginning to get a sneaky suspicion that many of the heroes of action films are undiagnosed psychopaths. I began to think this during Parker; Parker's obsession with people doing what they say goes beyond noble and into obsessive-compulsive disorder. Here, Bryan really needs to get back on his meds. Paranoid doesn't begin to cover it. We learn fairly soon that he's hidden a GPS tracker in his daughter's phone. When his wife tells him that his daughter has a girlfriend his face falls. "Don't go doing a background check on him" his wife warns. What does this say about him, that his own daughter was terrified of telling him she had a boyfriend? And when she finds out he hid a GPS tracker in her phone, she isn't that shocked. This is standard behaviour for her father: a man on the edge.
The film ends with the four of them sitting in a café as the milkshakes arrive. "Dad, don't kill this one!" Kim says. They all laugh as the film fades out. But is that funny? We've seen Bryan kill dozens, if not hundreds of people, some in very unpleasant ways; he kills one with a coat hook. I felt like shouting at the screen, "show some respect! People have died!" They were sitting there like an episode of Happy Days.
Added to that, what does Kim even mean by "this one"? I wouldn't put it past Bryan to have killed her ex-boyfriends off screen. This is a man who encouraged his daughter to throw a grenade off the top of a building into a populated courtyard so that he could hear the explosion and work out where he was. He uses grenades to navigate! The rest of us use GPS, he just blows something up.
Although they're laughing, and Bryan is being reasonable, I'm pretty sure he did a background check on the boyfriend. No way would he be buying him milkshakes unless he'd checked his past, family and crimes. Bryan isn't so much a hero as a dangerous psychopath in need of medical treatment and a shed load of cognitive behavioural therapy. He is not a well man.
When we see Bryan in action, large parts of the film feel more like a video game. There's all the standard video game tropes there; hostage rescue mission, pursue the villains, ducking behind cover. In one scene, we hear a dog barking as he walks past, and I'm sure the sound effect is taken form Counter Strike. The film even ends with a boss fight.
This is something I'm starting to spot with other films. Earlier this week I watched Welcome to the Punch, a visually impressive but ultimately disappointing film. It ends with a long shootout sequence at the docks, much of which was filmed from the first person, over the shoulder looking along the gun barrel.
It's not just the filming, but the situations and structure. Set pieces are structured like levels in a game, and the unending hordes of bad guys are like spawning villains in a game. It's strange, because films like Goldeneye, which have been made into games, and do feature long shooting sequences, still feel like films. Here, the sequences felt like going down a corridor as challenges and traps are thrown out at us. Ironically, though, most games have more sophisticated story telling than this now.
Taken 2 wasn't a bad film. At least, it wasn't as bad as I was fearing; Rotten Tomatoes gave it 21%. But it's relatively uninspiring. It lacks much of the tension and excitement of the first Taken, and I found it difficult to get over how clearly delusional Bryan was. I half expected to find out that the whole film had taken place in his imagination where he'd retreated after accidentally murdering his daughter in a fit of rage. But this was not the case. Although in my head, I've added on a final scene where we see Bryan, sitting in a straitjacket in a padded room, rocking to himself. And somehow that's made it feel more believable to me.
However, there is something to be thankful for. The Taken franchise has led to pretty much my favourite gag of the last five years. It's from the TV series Happy Endings, which I've never actually seen, but am planning to get the whole box set on the strength of this one line. Alex turns round, sitting on the sofa: "Consider your TV Liam Neeson's daughter, 'cause this bitch is taken," she says, waving the control, "And your remote is also Liam Neeson's daughter 'cause this bitch is taken, too."