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20th Century Fox, Magali Bragard, Associated Press
This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Liam Neeson in a scene from "Taken 2."

“Taken 2” had to happen. The notion that Liam Neeson could kill three dozen Albanian gangsters and a billionaire oil sheik in the first film and then return to a normal life is absurd. Eventually, someone was going to come after him.

As “Taken 2” opens, that someone turns out to be the father of one of those gangsters. Standing stoically over his son’s grave in one of the most picturesque cemeteries to ever hold the bodies of dead sex traffickers, he swears vengeance on his son’s murderer, casually ignoring the circumstances that got him killed in the first place. Because when you’re a parent, you tend to overlook your kids’ shortcomings, right?

Back home in Los Angeles, Neeson’s relationship with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), is about what you’d expect between a teenager and an ex-government operative: She loves her daddy, but wishes he wouldn’t use her cellphone to track her movements when she’s trying to make out with her new boyfriend. And thanks to a convenient separation from Kim’s stepdad, it looks like love might bloom a second time between Neeson and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen).

Things are looking so good, in fact, that Neeson invites the two of them to go to Istanbul with him. Now, you’d think that at least one of the three would see a red flag here, but Kim and Lenore accept, and in no time those gangsters show up looking for a little payback.

The first film had a simple plot: The bad guys kidnapped Kim, and Liam Neeson seemingly killed half the population of Europe to get her back. It was a point A-to-point B straight line that perfectly underscored the driven nature of Neeson’s character.

But “Taken 2” doesn’t have that same luxury. This time the bad guys are after Neeson, his daughter and his ex-wife, and the effort to shepherd everyone to safety amounts to a juggling act that breaks down the momentum of the plot. First Neeson and Lenore are kidnapped. Then the bad guys go after Kim. Then Neeson breaks out, and has to get Kim to safety. But in the meantime, the bad guys have moved Lenore. And so on and so on. A few of the new twists are fun — such as Kim making the improbable jump from petrified victim to grenade-chucking stunt driver — but they come at a cost.

“Taken 2” also lacks the tension of the first film, which was built on the horrifying notion of having a child stolen and sold away into the underworld. In “Taken,” Neeson had 96 hours to get Kim back before she was lost forever. But after seeing his superhuman performance in the first film, there’s never any doubt in “Taken 2” that Neeson won’t be up to the task again.

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To be honest, though, most of this is beside the point. Whether it’s catharsis, facing our fears or a need to see justice met on screen when it’s so hard to come by in real life, moviegoers want to see the good guy take out the bad guy. That’s why “Taken” became such a fan favorite, and that’s why fans will enjoy “Taken 2.” Both films would be utterly forgettable without Neeson and his “particular set of skills.”

Interestingly, “Taken 2” isn’t quite as violent as its predecessor. The first film had a dark, oppressive tone that felt more appropriate for an R-rated movie. “Taken 2” has plenty of action violence, but it’s mostly bloodless, and the PG-13-level profanity doesn’t even feature a single appearance of the ugly F-word.

It’s still not a family film, but “Taken 2” doesn’t have any scenes that parents will have to fast-forward through when they rent the DVD, either.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who also teaches English Composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.