It’s fairly safe to say that nobody expected very much from the original Taken back in 2009. Producer Luc Besson had been cranking out C grade action films for about half a decade, and while people still held Liam Neeson in high regard for his magnificent work in films such as Schindler’s List, and Kinsey, he hadn’t headlined a hit in quite some time. As such, it came as an utter shock when Taken was not only good, but one of the absolute best action films of the decade. Not only a great showcase for shootouts, fistfights, and everything in between, but a richly involving revenge fantasy for anyone who has felt powerless in the fight to protect their children, the film pumped Neeson’s stoic, grizzled charisma up to eleven and turned him into an instant action all star. Six years, and a host of Neeson led action films (including the awful Taken 2) later, and we’re ready to send the tale of Bryan Mills off into the sunset.
Picking up a couple years after the second film, Taken 3 finds Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) in a generally happy place. His daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is attending college, while his ex wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) seems to be backsliding his way in light of trouble with her second husband Stuart (Dougray Scott). Of course, happiness is a temporary thing in the Mills family. One afternoon, Brain finds Lenore’s dead body on his bed, and cops in his apartment. Framed for her murder, he finds himself having to use his particular set of skills to evade the cops, headed up by Franck Dotzler (Forrest Whitaker) and hunt down the men who really killed the woman he loved.
I went into this one essentially knowing that I was in trouble. Not only are we coming off of a previous sequel that took the gritty authenticity of the original film, and turned it into ridiculous self parody, but that film’s director, Olivier Megaton, has returned for this one. With that said, the premise and trailers did give me a small sliver of hope, seemingly abandoning the formula of the first two for something a little darker. Turns out, I should have just listened to my instincts, as this is yet another dud that somehow manages to be even more disappointing than it’s predecessor.
Killing Lenore provided a major opportunity to tap back into the primal emotions that fueled the original. If anything, this should have been Bryan’s breaking point, where he lashes out at a world that is constantly screwing him over. Instead, he seems rather nonplussed by the whole situation, seeming more concerned about moving from one action scene to the next. Neeson as always is an endlessly valuable presence, but he seems stilted and tired here, especially in the few quiet moments that the film does take to really try to sell the effects of Lenore’s death. This drowns out any sense of tension, investment, or urgency in the proceedings, making it a slog to sit through.
The rest of the cast is also wasted for the most part, especially Forrest Whitaker. An incredible actor in his own right who could have easily gone toe to toe with Neeson in a meatier role, the former Oscar winner is reduced to a generic police guy who essentially serves to recap to the audience what happened in the scenes before. Meanwhile, Maggie Grace provides the only genuine seeming emotion in the film, but really isn’t given anything to do, while Scott just sort if glowers around.
The film dosen’t even work as a “turn off your brain” action movie, as the sequences that do rely on this fall victim to Megaton’s tragically awful action direction. Every single confrontation or car chase here is shot so up close, and with so many quick cuts that it’s nearly impossible to actually tell what the hell is happening. It’s more like a suggestion of action than anything else. There are also moments where Bryan escapes death traps that would turn the road runner into a pile of guts, with little to no explanation that goes beyond “he jumped out of the car…duh” and the complete lack of blood removes all presence of consequence or brutality.
Taken 3 had every opportunity to redeem this series, ending things on a high note, but it fails on virtually every level. Neeson isn’t nearly as compelling as usual, the action is incomprehensible, and the story is badly paced, not even remotely hitting it’s stride until almost an hour in. I know it’s tempting to check this one out just on a base level, but there are so many action movies in the near vicinity that look so much better, one of which is a Liam Neeson movie coming in April. Save your money, time, and dignity for those.