Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the retired CIA agent with a particular set of skills who stopped at nothing to save his daughter Kim from Albanian kidnappers. When the father of one of the kidnappers swears revenge, and takes Bryan and his wife hostage during their family vacation in Istanbul, Bryan enlists Kim to help them escape, and uses the same advanced level of special forces tactics to get his family to safety and systematically take out the kidnappers one by one.
Coming at a time when the action genre was dominated by shaky-cam Bourne editing shenanigans, 2008’s Taken registered as a pleasantly streamlined surprise: a straight-ahead thriller where the clean, clear style both matched and accentuated Liam Neeson’s ruthless-blunt-object force. Strangely, the sequel feels much more in line with producer Luc (The Transporter, Colombiana) Besson’s other franchises–noisy, chaotically slammed together, and in dazed thrall to its own flash. (If there’s an opportunity for a swooping helicopter shot or a fruit-cart collision, this sucker’s going to go for two.) However, even if it can’t match the impact of its predecessor, the sight of Neeson in righteous revenge mode still carries some considerably addictive juice. Set several years after the events of the first installment, the story finds Neeson’s black-ops professional losing ground with his beloved daughter (Maggie Grace), while forming a tentative rapprochement with his ex-wife (the always welcome Famke Janssen). During a working vacation in Istanbul, their family ties are sorely testing by the appearance of an army of villains with a particular score to settle. Director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3) digresses wildly from previous director Pierre Morel’s no-nonsense approach, choosing instead to revel in over-the-top implausibilities; some pleasantly goofy (two words: grenade cartography), and others just sort of baffling (the reprisal of the first film’s famous phone call comes in the middle of a fight scene, while a bunch of armed goons stand around obligingly). Still, even if the narrative rarely makes sense, Neeson keeps things from wandering too far off track, via sheer movie star presence. Craggier and somehow taller than ever, he makes for an ideal Family Man of Action: intriguingly self-contained, tender in repose, and absolutely ferocious when provoked. When he gets going, prepare to feel a little sorry for the bad guys. –Andrew Wright