Liam Neeson and his very particular set of skills return to theaters this weekend with "Taken 2," the sequel to 2009's hit actioner that kicked-started the gun-slinging, baddie-bashing second act of 60-year-old Neeson's career.
In this latest installment, penned by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and directed by Olivier Megaton, Neeson finds his retired CIA operative character Bryan Mills and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) taken -- no surprise there! -- by the father of one of his victims from the first film. Mills enlists daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to help the pair escape, taking audiences on a white-knuckle ride through the underbelly of Istanbul.
With the original's impressive $145-million haul at the box office, "Taken 2" has big, blood-stained shoes to fill. Does it stack up? Not quite, according to the critics. Here's what they have to say about the film , out Friday (October 4).
"Extending a work trip to vacation with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace), Neeson's ex-CIA op, Bryan Mills, is kidnapped and held captive in a hellhole somewhere in Istanbul by murderous Albanians, out for revenge for all the Albanians slaughtered in the first 'Taken' four years ago. The script of 'Taken 2' inserts an occasional plea for peace, love and understanding in the mouth of Mills, but it doesn't believe them for a second. There is no 'Taken 2' without Neeson shooting, stabbing, strangling, mixed-martial-arts-ing and generally destroying dozens of Albanians who want him dead, and want his ex-wife dead, and want his daughter as a sex slave for hire. Albanians really don't come off well as a people in this franchise." -- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
How It Compares to the Original
" '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." -- Neil Smith, Total Film
"Neeson is utterly convincing as the anger-fueled but soft-spoken action hero, the personification of the regular guy pushed to the limit in defence of his family, and it's hard to see the 'Taken' franchise succeeding without him. There's a touch of vigilante advocacy in the movie that will displease some, with Neeson as a more gentlemanly version of the Charles Bronson of the 'Death Wish' series, but clearly there's still a market for such fantasies." -- Bernard Besserglik, The Hollywood Reporter
"The action is generally up to snuff and well-choreographed, but Megaton's quick editing isn't quite as elegant as other graduates of the Luc Besson Filmmaking School, such as original director Pierre Morel or Louis Letterier." -- Edward Douglas, Comingsoon.net
The Bottom Line
"The only real innovation is in making Neeson's adventure a family affair, but that mostly involves making him bark driving instructions at Grace as they tear through Istanbul's obstacle-strewn, chase-friendly streets. Otherwise, it's business as usual for the Besson machine, distinguished only by the star working the levers. Neeson's Jason Statham-ization continues apace, but it's looking less and less like a welcome development." -- Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club