"I have a very particular set of skills," growled Liam Neeson's character in 2008's Taken — but if reviews for the new weekend release Taken 2 are any indication, that skill set doesn't include steering sequels. The original Taken, in which an ex-CIA agent (Neeson) raced and tortured his way across Paris to rescue his kidnapped daughter, was a surprise action hit. But Taken 2, in which the same (supremely luckless) ex-CIA agent races and tortures his way across Istanbul to rescue his kidnapped ex-wife, has earned a dismal 18 percent positive reviews from critics. (Watch a trailer for Taken 2 below.) How did 20th Century Fox botch the sequel so badly? Here, 4 theories:
1. It copies the original without improving on it
Taken 2 adheres strictly to the formula that made the original Taken a hit, says John Anderson at The Wall Street Journal. But it's just too formulaic; whereas Taken was surprising, exciting, and "vicariously satisfying in its violence," Taken 2 is familiar, dull, and gratuitous. If 20th Century Fox wanted to make a compelling follow-up, it needed to do more than watch Taken and "copy it slavishly, right down to it flaws."
2. It's too cartoonish
Taken 2 diverts from the original in one sense, says Lou Lumenick at the New York Post. It's "vastly sillier." The film is packed with scenes that strain credibility, including a "truly hilarious" sequence in which a character tosses grenades off a rooftop to help Neeson locate her. And Taken 2 takes over-the-top violence to the breaking point: "There doesn't seem to be a whole lot at stake in a movie where you can crash your way through the armed barricades at the American embassy in a stolen taxicab and survive without a scratch."
3. It's poorly directed
Taken 2's action scenes are so ineptly conceived (by director Oliver Megaton), shot, and edited that "it's difficult to make heads or tails of what's happening in them," says Adam Graham at the Detroit News. And without the coherent action sequences that made the original film a hit, the sequel quickly becomes a muddled, tiresome mess.
4. It wastes the talents of Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson became famous for complex, layered performances in films like Schindler's List and Michael Collins, but recently the actor "has settled for being the go-to guy for action movies that need only an avenging patriarch," says Stephen Whitty at the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Neeson may eventually return to roles that challenge him as an actor — and show off his unique range of talents — but his "big, simple, stoic hero" in Taken 2 isn't worth the price of admission.
Consensus: Taken 2 is a bland, expedient, forgettable mess that won't even manage to thrill die-hard fans of the original.