Review: Taken 3 (2015)
The Taken series is an unlikely blockbuster franchise that mixes corny family dramatics with hyper-violent action sequences. These films capitalize on the legitimate thrill of watching Liam Neeson, an old, hulking, soft-spoken Irishman, kick ass. But they’re also hyperactive, incoherent, and more than a little psychotic. For example, we’re meant to enjoy watching Neeson’s Bryan Mills waterboard a villain, as if it’s funny that the man cannot speak while choking. At this point I probably enjoy these films more for their endearingly lame father-daughter bits that comprise their early, pre-crisis scenes than for their action sequences. The latest and supposedly final film in the franchise, Taken 3 (or TAK3N) does much the same as its predecessors: it empowers Liam Neeson with near-superhuman abilities and unleashes him on a host of foreign baddies to dispatch with extreme prejudice, even if no one is actually “taken” here. As an action movie, it fails, but it’s enough of a corny oddity to at least be an enjoyable mess.
In the first Taken Bryan MIlls saves his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), from Albanians who want to sell her into sex slavery. In the second film he saves himself and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), from those same Albanians’ disgruntled family members. Here, he’s only fighting to clear himself of Lenore’s murder. Of course this leads him down the rabbit hole of disgruntled ex-Spetsnaz and shady business deals, where he can demonstrate his remarkable ability to accomplish nearly anything he sets his mind to.
Here’s the thing: Taken 3 is not a good film. Its action scenes are poorly done. Director Olivier Megaton is a weak-sauce adherent to shaky-cam action sequences. He shoots the action incoherently. If I was trying to be generous, I could argue that he’s creating an abstraction of the action, making it deliberately impressionistic. Each cut is so fast, Megaton essentially removes the impact of every bullet and punch, relying on his editing to create the impression that all the bullets are finding their marks and each punch lands its blow. But I don’t believe this was that intentional or artistically reasoned out. I think Megaton just wants the action to be cool and fast, like in those Jason Bourne movies.
The film’s plot is a run-of-the-mill wrong man thriller. We all know Mills is innocent. We’re even pretty sure of who’s behind the murder, but for the sake of what mystery there is, I won’t say who it is here. The eccentric cop working the case (played by Forest Whitaker, who is basically reprising his role from the undervalued Schwarzenegger film, The Last Stand) even knows that Mills is innocent. He admits as much in the film’s closing scenes. However, the plot requires him to chase Mills to create scenarios where Mills can demonstrate his particular set of skills. Thus, we end up with blown-up cop cars and highway pileups and exploded elevator shafts—millions of dollars of damage and numerous innocent casualties that Mills doesn’t have to account for, because of: justice.
But even acknowledging Taken3’s poor action and silly plot, there’s still some bizarre pleasures to be found, like Neeson knocking a villain out by patting him on the back, as if he were overzealously congratulating the man on a job well done. Neeson is always entertaining. His unending politeness, even in the midst of crisis, is ceaselessly funny. One scene finds him hijacking a car at gunpoint, but he politely tells the man that he won’t be hurt and that he only needs a ride, and would he mind if he drove? He’s not only the perfect father (he surprises his daughter in an early scene with a giant stuffed panda bear and a bottle of champagne), but he’s also a perfect gentleman with his ex-wife, refusing to engage romantically with her out of respect for her businessman husband (Dougray Scott). Sure, he’s a little overprotective (which is understandable when his daughter was almost sold into sex slavery), and a little overzealous in his pursuit of justice (his body count must be in the 100s), but he’s endlessly likeable. Add to that his superhuman ability to beat guys up and you’ve got yourself a hilarious, memorable character populating a humdrum film.
In the theatre where I saw Taken 3 there was an elderly gentleman sitting in the back corner, laughing loudly at Neeson’s every quip or vicious blow. He added considerably to my enjoyment of the film, and framed how I believe the film should be approached. Don’t watch Taken 3 for the action or because you really care about what happens to Bryan Mills’ family. Watch it for the bizarre and often hilarious family hysterics disguised as muscular vigilante action. It’s perverse for a film with such extensive ruthlessness to champion cheap sentiment and the nuclear family. Taken 3 is a weak film, but its unrepentant weirdness (a hallmark of Luc Besson’s Europa Corp) almost saves it. Almost.
4 out of 10
Taken 3 (France/USA)
Directed by Olivier Megaton; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; starring Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott, Sam Spruell, Leland Orser, and Maggie Grace.