Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Taken 3

by Adam Riske
It is what you think it is.

The original Taken was not great but it was fantastic in its own peculiar way. It was also aided by coming as a complete surprise when it was dumped into theaters in January 2009. Taken reached many viewers on a primal level with its terrific premise: “What would you do to the people who kidnapped your daughter?” In its execution of that idea, Taken is flawless, unleashing an action bloodlust in the viewer by proxy of a hero who is completely in the right in his actions. There is no gray area in Taken. It was a trashy movie, but it was great trash. In the case of Taken 2 and Taken 3...not so much.

The material for the franchise has been stretched thin over three movies; neither having much of a unifying arc or an evolving personality as the series has progressed. A problem with the sequels is that they don’t have that gut-level drive that made the original work. They needed a new angle. Unfortunately, the one they took (of an increasingly stupid action franchise) has not come together into anything edgy, suspenseful or entertaining. Taken 2 was terrible, so my expectations were low going into Taken 3. At that level, Taken 3 is better than Taken 2 but still not very good.
Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, an ex-government operative with a “particular set of skills” who, in the latest Taken, is accused of a murder he did not commit. Tracked and pursued by the police, Mills attempts to clear his name, protect his daughter (Maggie Grace) and seek out the real culprits of the crime.

This new sequel plays like a direct-to-video knockoff of The Fugitive, but fails where that movie succeeded at being an exciting action movie and an intriguing mystery. I wanted to have an alright time with Taken 3, which I did for a little while, but that all went out the window with its first action sequence.

Taken 3 (and Taken 2) were directed by Olivier Megaton, a disciple of Luc Besson. By evidence of his directorial output, Megaton is, well, let’s just say, a hacky director of action. Being that action is his specialty, that presents a problem. The action in Taken 3 is among some of the worst I’ve seen from a major studio release. It’s shot and edited like you’re fast-forwarding a DVD. It’s all quick frames that, when viewed in succession, become a jumbled mess. It seems actually difficult to direct action scenes this poorly. I would think it would be easier not to cut an action sequence to shreds, but that’s not the approach that Megaton took. It’s total garbage.
Staying on the action, another big problem is the score in these sequences. They lack any type of pacing or urgency. It’s almost indifferent and totally undercuts the extremity of the set pieces. For example, there’s a scene where a car falls down an elevator shaft and explodes, causing huge damage to a large section of a building, but with the way that it is shot and scored it’s so clumsy that you would think hardly anything happened. The action leaves no lasting effect. You can’t even tell what is happening most of the time. As for the hand-to-hand fighting, it’s been noted on IMDB that Liam Neeson did all of his own stunts for this movie. It either seems like he’s been betrayed by his director, because none of the stunts come across in an exciting fashion -- or it could mean that the action had to be so choppy because Neeson is not believable anymore in a fight sequence. As evidence of an early scene, where he is laughably jogging, it might be a little bit of column A and column B.

I enjoyed some of the non-action sequences in the movie, in particular the sweet and corny relationship between Neeson and his on-screen daughter Maggie Grace. The two have strong rapport and give the movie (and the series) some much-needed heart. Being that it’s a Luc Besson production, their relationship is beyond bizarre (he treats her like she’s 10 years old and she acts like she’s 10 years old most of the time) but it’s endearing to me because it’s so square. I particularly enjoyed Neeson presenting the college-aged Grace with an oversized panda stuffed animal as a birthday present and also the way he talks to her when she says that she wants to get a puppy. The way he lays it out so practically is hilarious. I could watch a thousand movies of just Liam Neeson being a devoted father to Maggie Grace. I don’t need any of those movies to have action in them.

New to the cast (in the Tommy Lee Jones/The Fugitive role) is a rubber-band in hand Forest Whitaker, who is always a welcome addition to a movie. However, the script saddles him with being one of the most illogical police officers you can imagine. At one point he has a deduction about bagels (which proves the Neeson character’s innocence to him) that seems rather flimsy and arbitrary; at other times, he doesn’t even seem too concerned with his job of bringing Neeson’s character into custody. On more than one occasion, Whitaker’s team will have a lead on Neeson to which Whitaker just says something like (I’m paraphrasing) “He’s too smart for that…don’t even bother following him.” What????
Taken 3 is ridiculous, but I wish it pushed its respective insanity a little further. By part three these movies should be at Fast & Furious levels of absurdity, but the action seems still fairly grounded – a throat punch here, an explosion there, etc. There is one scene where Neeson crashes a sports car at high speed into the wheel of a private jet to prevent it from taking off which is pretty funny, but it doesn’t come close to the levels of hilarity as him shooting an innocent woman in the arm in the first Taken or instructing his daughter to throw live grenades at a parking garage in Taken 2. Taken 3 is taking itself a little too seriously for my taste.

I like bad January movies. I look forward to them. After the glut of quality releases from the last quarter of the year, I want to see some quality trash. It’s the time of the year I’m the most tolerant of bad movies. Unfortunately, Taken 3 does not quench that meager thirst. It’s lazy and stupid, which I am willing to cut some slack (at this time of the year) but it’s hard to really get worked up about the movie in any way. I just sort of sat there and watched it. I shrugged and thought “whatever” and then I went home.


  1. Great review, Adam - this is expected but still a bit of a bummer - you're absolutely right - at this point just go fucking nuts - that is absolutely why the F&F Franchise just keeps getting better.

    I feel like the original Taken succeeded on the "phone call" alone - "No, give me my daughter back or I'll kill YOU." It didn't just feed our standard revenge fantasies, it added an extra layer of empowerment to a scenario where you can usually only imagine feeling totally out of control. After that scene the audience was eating out of their hands and I think that has a lot to do with why it's so well-regarded because I don't think it's nearly as good as it's reputation.

    1. I want Taken to go the Death Wish route. I will not be satisfied until Maggie Grace is slashing bad guys with a samurai sword while singing "Let it Go" (because she's 10 years old).

      Great point on the phone call scene from part one.

  2. I skipped on part 2. To say something JB would say " Lifes to short to spend time on stuff like this, I just gained two hours of my life back" and I am also gonna skip part 3 which is a pity. I like Forest Whittaker.
    Cheers Adam. You werent Taken by Taken ;)

    1. I would have spent the two hours I could have saved on YouTube or taking a nap so going to the movies seems more appealing :-)

    2. But then again I spent 1hr 29mins last night watching Ouija and you did warn me too so I guess im the bigger fool ;)

  3. "I like bad January movies. I look forward to them. After the glut of quality releases from the last quarter of the year, I want to see some quality trash."

    YES! Where's this year's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters? I think Seventh Son looks like it comes closest to being January trash but it doesn't come out until February.

    1. There's some comedy and drama trash for sure this January but I agree with you...there needs to be action/adventure trash too. Seventh Son looks awful (and it probably will be because it's been pushed back so many times) but that might be our best bet.