Bryan Mills needs a new rabbit’s foot. First, sex-traffickers took his beloved daughter, Kim. Then vengeful criminals took Mills and his ex-wife. In Taken 3, they are now taking his freedom by framing Mills for a murder he did not commit. For all of the heroic actions we keep hearing about in Mills’ past, people sure seem to hate this guy.
Liam Neeson once again stars as Bryan Mills. Retired from his mysterious past, Mills now prefers the simple life of following Kim (the finally age-appropriate Maggie Grace) around making bad jokes about stuffed pandas. When Mills’ ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), is found dead in his apartment, Mills sets off on a course of destruction to find all those responsible.
What he should have done was hunt down writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen for subjecting Neeson to a screenplay this clichéd and ludicrous. Taken 3 is one of those action films where the hero, WHO OBVIOUSLY KNOWS BETTER, picks up the murder weapon with his bare hands as if it were a new penny, offers up way too many poorly written characters played by quality actors (Forest Whitaker, Leland Orser, and Dougray Scott give us the very definition of ‘phoning-it-in’), showcases our hero unnecessarily beating cops senseless, and even escaping in excruciatingly dramatic ways when he clearly should be turning himself in. Getting away from the tired premise of the first two films was a great idea, it is just too bad Besson and company could not find a stronger template than bad 80’s thrillers to base it all on.
Not all of the problems with Taken 3 stem from the writing though, as director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Columbiana, Taken 2) deserves a lion’s share of the blame as well. I have yet to witness a film of Megaton’s where he understands the crucial details of editing an action scene. Each section carries enough quick-cutting and clumsy staging to make Michael Bay look like Tarantino. Even with an aging star, a quality director could have ‘taken’ this premise and infused it with the bristling energy and send-off the series deserves.
Let me elaborate: the first Taken is a riveting example of perfect movie escapism. This was an action film that illustrated its singular objective and never strayed from that path: A father will do anything to save his daughter. No random love interest, no side quests; just action and intense focus. Casting Liam Neeson as the older version of Jason Bourne was a cinematic stroke of genius and audiences could not get enough. Taken 2 was more or less the same plot turned on its ear, but Neeson’s relentless pursuit continued to engage.
With this latest in the now trilogy of Taken films, Taken 3 seems to want to end what the first film so brilliantly began: Liam Neeson’s action career. In Taken 1, Bryan Mills would blaze through dozens of nefarious types with panther-like precision. In Taken 3, Neeson’s accelerated age has jumped to the forefront and his action scenes here paint him more as a hobbled gazelle. He lumbers around, hulking and grunting as though his sciatica is acting up again. Instead of amping the audience up for Neeson’s final goodbye, or even exploring the honest woes of an aging hero, we instead are led to believe this is the same ole Mills in yet another wacky predicament. He just seems to do everything in slow-motion.
Desperately attempting to save face is Liam Neeson, as he tries to single-handedly drag this franchise to a satisfying close. Even if Megaton seems to lack faith in Mills’ heroic skill-set, Neeson still cares. His relationship with Grace also still works, even if the story scrapes and claws at every turn looking for reasons to put them in each other’s sights. Their relationship is how this world began, and it is fittingly how it is brought to a close.
I was a huge fan of the first film and really enjoyed the second, yet summing up Taken 3 is no easy feat. Neeson and Grace give it their all and the final act ultimately delivers a satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately getting there is not. This is as clichéd and flawed an action vehicle as I have seen in some time, and when it came to a close I was just glad to finally see it end. This is one film series I won’t take in again.