Liam Neeson chases down more bad guys in "Taken 2." (Magali Bragard / 20th Century…)
One of the lessons to be gleaned from sequels like "Taken 2" is that bad guys never learn. You'd think, for example, that anyone privy to the bloody rampage carried out by concerned father and ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) to save his daughter from Albanian slavers in the first "Taken" would think twice before messing with the guy. Alas, the villains in "Taken 2," being relatives of the slain thugs from the previous film, are out for revenge, forcing Bryan to engage in another round of family-saving and neck-snapping.
Critics agree that "Taken 2" is essentially a retread of the first film; whether that's a good thing or not may depend on your taste for Neeson's "very particular set of skills."
The Times' Kenneth Turan calls the film "more a remake than a sequel" but adds that, like its predecessor, "Taken 2" succeeds largely thanks to Neeson's acting chops. "Neeson's empathetic performing skills put him in a different category than the usual suspects for this kind of a part," Turan writes. "His acting makes him seem human and even vulnerable, someone we can't help but worry over even though it's those feckless Albanians we should be nervous about."
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Many other critics, among them the Wall Street Journal's John Anderson, are less favorable in their reviews. Anderson knocks "the blind adherence to formula evident in most of 'Taken 2.' " He concedes that "it's an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride. But it could have been much more." Instead of taking the series in a new direction, "Taken 2" copies its predecessor "slavishly, right down to the flaws," which include wooden acting and corny dialogue.
The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris finds the screenwriting lazy, as "typed up" — not written, mind you — by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. And while "Taken 2" has a new director in Olivier Megaton ("The Transporter 3," "Colombiana"), Morris notes that he's "a Besson-factory regular." (Besson co-wrote and produced both "Taken" films.) Morris does, however, admit to rooting for Kim (Maggie Grace), Bryan's daughter, who has gone from being an imperiled abductee to following in her dad's footsteps in the span of two films. "Her mounting sense of self-defense," Morris says, "is the partial source of the film’s comedy."
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea declares "Taken 2" an "inevitable — and unfortunate — sequel" that is "rigorously formulaic and far-fetched." While "Neeson is full of Neesonesque stoicism" and "Grace is as convincing as the wobbly script allows," it's unfortunate that Famke Janssen, playing ex-wife and mother Lenore, is "relegated to the role of helpless victim, spending a good part of the film in a state of semiconsciousness." The original "Taken," Rea concludes, is "far more satisfying and suspenseful."
Finally, Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times offers a haiku-like appraisal: "['Taken 2'] seems like a nonstop car and foot chase, with Albanian after Albanian falling victim to Bryan’s remarkable aim and hand-fighting skills. Foreigners bad, Americans good, box office busy."
Genzlinger does have a point: After all, movies like "Taken 2" are about as concerned about critics' reviews as Bryan is about the trail of dead bad guys he leaves in his wake. As long as box office dollars and Bryan's family are safe and sound, consider the mission accomplished.