Warning: May be some small spoilers ahead.
Audiences couldn't wait for the return of Liam Neeson in the role of Bryan Mills in "Taken 2", and it showed.
The highly critical reviews didn't stop the film from earning the top spot at theaters this weekend.
The film exceeded expectations earning a massive $50 million last weekend, more than double its predecessor opening weekend.
Despite its success, the sequel was missing some of the elements that made the first one a hit–smartly-executed hits and a takeaway one-liner (save one heated moment in a taxi cab between Neeson and his daughter)–so why did it do so well?
1. History precedes it.
Unsurprisingly, the second film in action franchises usually fares better than the original. A look at similar movies including "The Bourne Identity," "Transporter," follows this trend where the film's opening weekend nearly doubled that of the original.
Opening Weekend Worldwide Box Office
"The Bourne Identity" $27.1 million $214 million
"The Bourne Supremacy" $52.5 million $288.5 million
"Transporter" $9.1 million $43.9 million
"Transporter 2" $16.5 million $85.2 million
"Taken" $24.7 million $226.8 million
"Taken 2" $49.5 million n/a
"The Expendables" $34.8 million $103 million
"The Expendables 2" $28.5 million $84.4 million
One film that doesn't follow this model is the much-hyped "Expendables 2." The sequel, somehow starring nearly every action star save Neeson, earned nearly five million less than its predecessor opening weekend despite considerably better reviews and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 65%.
"Taken 2" follows a simple "Don't fix it if it ain't broke" format.
It's the same film as the original down to the movie's pace and set up. If we could run the two movies side by side, you would see plenty of overlap: Mills showing up to visit his daughter, Kim, Mills and his daughter fighting over some trivial embarrassment (not allowing her to travel alone vs. not allowing her to see a guy alone), and, then there's Neeson playing the calm, cool collected type telling everyone to do the same and "stay focused."
There's even a scene with Mills' old buddies; however, instead of hanging around inside his apartment, they're gathered around a barbecue.
It feels like a basic sitcom episode setup, and if you enjoyed it the first time around, chances are you'll tune in again.
Strangely enough, audiences punished "The Hangover 2" for following a similar format after its release last May saying it was the exact same film. Though the film nearly doubled the opening weekend gross of the first film, the sequel never outperformed the original domestically. (The film fared much better overseas.)
This brings us to point three.
3. Liam Neeson
The Neeson Season video wasn't created by chance.
The point of seeing "Taken 2" was never to see a brilliant sequel, rather, it was to see Neeson do what he does best: use his particular set of skills to off a bunch of men in the most creative ways possible.
He brings this same "set of skills" to the table in every film: "Batman Begins," "Star Wars," "The Grey," and audiences are okay with that.
While some of that magic was lost the second time around, (a car chase cannot substitute for all the jumping, running, and well-executed kills) we can always count that we're going to get Neeson's overt consistency. This is why, time after time, a majority of his films of the past year open, on average ,over $20 million.
And, finally ...
4. It Actually Is Entertaining
Maybe "Taken 2" isn't as stunning, shocking, or surprising as the first–we have to listen to Mills' daughter go on and on about her inabilities to maneuver a taxi around the streets of Istanbul until Neeson delivers one of the only original memorable lines in the film: "Do you know how to shoot? No. Then drive."–however, the sequel wasn't a terrible rehash.
We get Neeson using his CIA prowess to hunt down his abductors, protect his family, and save the day.
And, sure, the film wasn't perfect. "Taken 2" had a few plot holes, less Neeson kills than the first (an estimated 21 vs. 25–we counted), and two deaths near the end that sort of just "happened" (We're pretty sure he used his Jedi force powers from "Star Wars" to help him out.), but the film did its job.
At the end of the day, people just want to see Neeson, and that's what the film provided.