In Die Hard 2, John McClane’s wife sighs a weary “Why does this keep happening to us?” when terrorists once again unleash their fury on her family. Why indeed, but it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing personal.

In Taken 2, even though Bryan Mills’ family is the victim of a well-plotted, very personal bit of revenge, his (ex-)wife Lenore might sigh the exact same thing– that is, if she wasn’t busy bleeding half to death in the bad guys’ secret lair.

The follow-up to the surprise 2008 hit, Taken 2 picks up pretty much where the first left off, but it starts with an out-of-the-box moment. We’re witness to the funeral of the eight Albanians who Mills (Liam Neeson) dispatched (in Taken) in his raid on the sex slave headquarters where he believed his abducted daughter Kim was being held. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for these guys? No, it’s just screenwriting buddies Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen giving a little depth to the story and saving Taken 2 from being an unnecessary retread.

Mills, easily the most capable 60-year-old ex-CIA agent ever, is in Istanbul wrapping up a job guarding a visiting sheik when Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim (Maggie Grace) arrive to take him up on his offer for a little Turkish R&R. (Lenore’s first-movie marriage to Stuart is over, conveniently leaving plenty of room for Bryan and her to re-kindle.)

The Albanians, of course, track the Millses down (their country is right next door to Turkey, after all) and take Bryan and Lenore hostage. In another clever shift, though, it’s Maggie who’s spared this time and has to play rescuer.

Director Olivier Megaton (Colombiana) has a sharp eye for action and a keen sense of how to build tension, even when saddled with a script chock-full of way too many action movie cliches (bad guys have terrible aim, good guy never gets a scratch, life-and-death cell phone calls are never heard, car chases always end well).

Despite telegraphing how things will go down and how things will wrap up, Taken 2 is still surprisingly good. It’s a white-knuckle ride that works despite itself, driven primarily by the yet-again brilliance of Neeson, who can snap necks and land a punch like no one’s business. (Seriously, this guy has kicked more butt at 50-plus than most actors half his age).

Besson has already said that Taken 2 is the last chapter, and if so, great. They’re a tandem of films that will both be regarded as instant classics (the first, admittedly more so) for a while to come. Any more, and we might become the ones asking, “Why does this keep happening to us?”

3.5/5 stars